The second practice session of Formula 1’s experimental British Grand Prix weekend saw Max Verstappen remain imperious, topping the time sheets with a time 0.3sec ahead Ferrari’s impressive Charles Leclerc.
The McLaren’s of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were sixth and seventh in a busier session than expected, with Esteban Ocon looked to make some amends for yesterday’s disappointing qualifying session by going fourth fastest.
Lewis Hamilton was eighth fastest, whilst George Russell clocked in 11th, as all eyes now look ahead to F1’s first ever sprint race.
The rest of the grid followed in line, heading out on medium tyres and in sunny conditions. Lewis Hamilton set the early pace with an 1min 30.048sec, with Max Verstappen a quarter of a second behind.
Valtteri Bottas clocked a time 0.171sec to put himself second-fastest behind Hamilton, whilst Esteban Ocon impressively got himself into the top three and within half a second of the reigning champion.
The Finn then set a 1min 29.373sec to claim top of the leaderboard, Bottas looking more assured than he has in other session appearances this season.
But as the session wore on, the Red Bulls then began to assert their recent supremacy; Mercedes’ update not seeming to bring the team any closer to the championship leaders.
Verstappen initially went top with a 1min 27.745sec, with team-mate Sergio Perez 0.7sec further back in second.
The mood in the Mercedes garage won’t have improved as the session wore on: reminders of last year came back to haunt Lewis Hamilton as an ominous stripe appeared on his front right tyre.
The blistering medium tyre revived memories of the exploding tyres that cost Bottas a second-place finish at last year’s British Grand Prix, and saw Lewis Hamilton cross the line to win on three wheels. The defending champion was back in the pits before long.
With the medium tyres assessed, most teams looked to this evening’s qualifying session and strapped on the soft tyres, Max Verstappen led the way, setting a 1min 27.035sec lap that wouldn’t come close to being beaten for the rest of the session.
Perez didn’t come close, clocking a lap that was 1.1sec slower, initially the second-fastest of the session, but quickly improved on by rivals.
Hamilton went third on his soft compound run and was left trailing Verstappen by a significant amount. “Seven-tenths!” he exclaimed over the radio. “Where does that come from?”
Sainz recovered from a small spin to slot in behind Hamilton with a 1min 27.923sec lap but was then pipped by his team-mate – Leclerc clocking 1min 27.828sec before Bottas split the Ferraris — 0.862 down on Leclerc.
“Seven-tenths! Where does that come from?”
Despite both Mercedes covering 30 laps each in the session — more than any other car — there would be no improvement, suggesting bleak prospects for pole this evening.
McLaren, on the other hand look to set for another sparkling display, thanks to Lando Norris’s 1min 27.814 lap, which would have been impressive on soft tyres, let alone the mediums that he was running.
On the basis of the single session, the young British driver has a decent shot of making the front row and turning around his troubled week, but the battle looks close. Just 0.4sec separated Norris and Daniel Ricciardo who finished the session ninth — also running medium tyres.
Currently looking unlikely to make the Q3 shootout is George Russell who wasn’t just mired at the bottom of the timing screen but also clouded the next seven years of his career by breaking his left mirror.
Stroll sounded like he could do with a boost too; appearing to be set to start a fast lap then slowing and sighing over the radio: “I just have no confidence now” — which looked to be down to the car’s behaviour.
Stroll finished the session 18th, 1.5sec off his Aston Martin team-mate Vettel who was seventh behind Sainz with a 1min 28.062sec lap.
AlphaTauri didn’t show its soft tyre pace, with both cars setting their fastest times on medium tyres, as did Fernando Alonso.
With three hours from the end of the session until qualifying, there’s not much time for teams to apply their learnings from practice.
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The initial action wasn’t as frenetic as FP1, the two Haas drivers both setting 1min 34s before Esteban Ocon looked to make up for his disappointing qualifying with a 1min 32.220sec.
Both the Haas cars and Leclerc were running longer to investigate the longevity for the medium and hard compounds, the Monegasque posting a 1min 34.280sec on the latter.
Leclerc, who put his car an impressive fourth on the grid for the sprint race this afternoon, slithered through the Club chicane with a snap of oversteer as he struggled for grip.
Norris was keeping to the soft tyre, then going second fastest with 1min 33.400sec.
Sprint race poleman Hamilton immediately locked up coming out of the pits, then had a snap of oversteer at the final corner as he posted a 1min 32.728 sec to put him third on the hard tyres.
Yesterday’s hero Russell then bested him by 0.15sec on the soft tyre.
Perez next set a time just 0.095sec off still-top Ocon, before Bottas inserted himself into third with a 1min 32.262.
Ominously a 1min 30.428sec was clocked in by team-mate Verstappen – 1.4sec faster than Ocon. The Dutchman might start second this afternoon, but his pace looks formidable.
Charles Leclerc slid wide coming out of Brooklands before Bottas was told he had sensor damage at the rear of the car.
The Mercedes team then warned Hamilton to avoid the exit curb on Turn Nine, the team believing this was where the Finn had picked up damage.
Perez’s right front tyre started to show signs of graining. He had run his mediums for nine laps by this point, meaning softs might be looking a gamble later on.
Leclerc finished FP2 – 0.3sec off Verstappen
Xavi Bonilla / DPPI
The McLaren’s of Norris and Ricciardo appeared impressive, going third and fourth with times of 1min 31.164sec and 1min 31.348sec, before they were shuffled down the order by Sainz, who went second fastest as he set a 1min 30.507sec.
It later emerged that Bottas’s apparent sensor damage was actually a visor tear-off which had become stuck to his rear deflector.
Sainz’s Scuderia team-mate Leclerc slotted into second with a time just 0.3sec off Verstappen in the same medium compound.
Ricciardo then went faster than Norris by a tenth, as Hamilton asked “Do we really need to push the PU so much? Want to save laps.”
Mercedes confirmed they were happy with the state of PU, saying “It’s all good information.”
Verstappen had run the least laps of all as the session entered its closing stages, settling into the 1min 32s as he ran the hard compound tyre.
As the flag fell for the end of FP2, Bottas spun after his practice start, flat-spotting one set of his soft tyres in the process.