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|Austrian Grand Prix on the BBC|
|Venue: Red Bull Ring Date: 7-9 July|
|Coverage: Practice and qualifying on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra (online only), and race on BBC Radio 5 live. Live text commentary, leaderboard and imagery on BBC Sport website and app.|
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the second practice session at the Austrian Grand Prix, ahead of title rival Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari.
Hamilton was 0.147 seconds quicker than Vettel at the Red Bull Ring, with the second Mercedes of Finland’s Valtteri Bottas 0.216secs off the pace.
Bottas spun at Turn Six while trying to improve and was lucky not to crash.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo took fourth and fifth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
A bit of an atmosphere
Vettel, who heads into the weekend 14 points clear of Hamilton, said: “It looks close. it’s a short track so you would imagine it was close. Mercedes are the favourite. They looked very quick no matter when they went out today.”
It is the first race since the title fight turned nasty after Vettel deliberately drive into Hamilton’s car following a misunderstanding behind the safety car in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Hamilton has accepted Vettel’s apology for the incident and for accusing the Briton of ‘brake-testing’ him but is still unhappy at governing body the FIA deciding not to punish him further at a meeting on Monday.
Vettel was forced to apologise and warned there would be severe consequences if such an incident happened again but his punishment remains the 10-second stop-and-go penalty he was given in the race in Baku.
The German ended up finishing ahead of Hamilton and extending his lead by two points when the Mercedes driver was forced to stop to replace a loose head restraint.
Potential problems for Hamilton
Hamilton was quickest in both qualifying trim and on the race-simulation runs later in the session, when the cars run with a high fuel load, but his session was cut short because Mercedes needed to change a spark plug.
The three-time champion missed about 15 minutes before being sent on his way again but complained over the radio that there was still a problem. He returned to the pits with 10 minutes of the session remaining and investigations began into the source of the problem.
Despite his issue, Hamilton was comfortably quicker than both Bottas and Raikkonen when they were all doing race simulations on the ultra-soft tyre.
But Bottas’ times were not representative because he damaged the floor of his car with his spin and Mercedes did not replace it.
Vettel did his race-simulation run on the super-soft tyre first so his times cannot be compared.
Hamilton said: “The guys did a great job to turn the car around and we still managed to complete our programme. Most importantly, the car feels fantastically fast here.
“This car is so quick in comparison to what we raced here last year. It’s tricky, but a proper thrill to hook up a lap. The team is in good spirits and we’re all up for another exciting fight with the Ferraris this weekend.”
Spin, spin, spin
There was encouragement for McLaren, with Fernando Alonso eighth quickest using the upgraded engine that Honda have introduced for this race.
The new Honda is reputed to be about 25bhp more powerful than the previous version of the engine – which still leaves it just under 70bhp down on the Mercedes.
Kevin Magnussen also impressed in the Haas, to end the session seventh fastest.
The low-grip surface caused a lot of problems. Both Ferrari drivers spun, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson did so twice, Alonso had a rare off-track moment and spin in Turn Six, and a number of drivers ran wide as they explored the limits of the cars on the slippery track.
And Daniil Kvyat’s session came to end with 10 minutes remaining as he was told to return to the pits with overheating brakes – which promptly caught fire in the pits.
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