With further upgrades to their car this weekend, Mercedes dominated both the practice sessions on Friday as we head towards Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Drivers’ Championship Standings
Lewis Hamilton 145
Sebastian Vettel 131
Daniel Ricciardo 96
Valtteri Bottas 92
Constructors’ Championship Standings
Red Bull 164
It was a 1-2 for Mercedes in the first practice session with Lewis Hamilton 0.127 seconds ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Mercedes introduced some engine upgrades for the last race and more have been introduced for this weekend. The latest ones include changes to the sidepods and rear wing aimed at helping the aerodynamic demands of the car and helping the engine perform at its maximum level.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third fastest, 0.107 seconds behind Bottas with Sebastian Vettel in fourth but 0.341 seconds slower than Hamilton. Daniel Ricciardo, who seems likely to be staying with Red Bull was fifth with Kimi Raikkonen sixth. The Haas of Romain Grosjean was seventh fastest with Force India’s Esteban Ocon eighth. The top ten was completed by another impressive performance by Sauber’s Charles Leclerc in ninth and the word is that he will be racing for Ferrari next year. The Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly was tenth.
It’s not just Mercedes who have made upgrades for this race, Renault have too but it’s a bit complicated over who can use them. Red Bull, who use Renault’s engines have decided not to use the new MGU-K as it would mean grid penalties this week and didn’t want that at their home race, but those penalties will come sometime soon.
It’s the same situation for Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. His team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne has got the upgrade, but he still finished 18th in the first practice session a place behind Alonso. It wasn’t the easiest session for Vandoorne who broke his McLaren’s nose after running wide at Turn Nine.
Both the factory Renault cars of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz have been given the upgrade but neither could finish in the top ten, so it’ll be interesting to see how their weekend progresses.
It was more of the same in the second practice with Lewis Hamilton again fastest ahead of Bottas, this time by 0.176 seconds. His fastest time was set on his first run while using soft tyres but couldn’t get any faster times when switching to the ultra-soft ones.
Sebastian Vettel was third fastest and 0.236 seconds behind Hamilton with Daniel Ricciardo in fourth ahead of his team-mate Max Verstappen with Kimi Raikkonen in sixth. There was only 0.686 seconds between the top six cars.
Romain Grosjean again finished seventh fastest with his team-mate Kevin Magnusson just behind him. Pierre Gasly was ninth but didn’t have a great session as he managed to break the left-front suspension of his Toro Rosso going over the kerb at Turn Nine.
Stoffel Vandoorne had a better session and finished tenth fastest 0.7 seconds faster than he managed in the first session. It wasn’t such a good result for Alonso who also had problems at Turn Nine damaging his McLaren’s floor and he finished 19th.
Not that much between the top six then and we could be in for a close qualifying session on Saturday. With their new upgrades and Hamilton back at the top of the table, Mercedes will be trying everything to get another win this weekend. I’ll be back on Saturday with a report on the final practice session and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sports