Max Verstappen put Red Bull back on top in final practice for the Austrian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver was 0.5sec clear of the closest Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. Lewis Hamilton had gone closer but had a time deleted for track limits.
Teams had to run a test tyre as part of an impromptu Pirelli tyre test on prototype tyres set to be introduced for the British Grand Prix. Each driver was required to set 12 laps in order to gain data for F1’s sole tyre manufacturer.
Here is how practice unfolded ahead of the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix
The requirement to run prototype tyres made for a very busy track in the opening minutes as drivers got their laps in on the unmarked compound of tyre.
Yuki Tsunoda caught the gravel at the exit of Turn Four and was the first driver to take an excursion through the gravel. The AlphaTauri driver was able to recover onto the circuit but was fourth fastest anyway in the opening 10 minutes.
Lance Stroll was the next to have a spin, sliding round between Turns Six and Seven on the prototype tyres before gingerly recovering back onto the track himself. The Canadian caught the gravel on the exit of Turn Six to pitch him into a spin and the infield.
There was a mightily close call between Nikita Mazepin and Kimi Räikkönen as the Alfa Romeo came across a very slow Haas on the racing line at Turn Nine. It forced the Finn off the road before he signalled a single-digit salute the Russian’s way for the incident.
Max Verstappen’s 1min 05.558sec was the benchmark to beat 20 minutes into the first practice session. The Dutchman completed his time on the prototype tyres and reported that the balance was fairly good in his RB16B on the new compound.
Title rival Lewis Hamilton clocked in 4.1sec slower than Verstappen after completing his 12 scheduled laps before pitting for set-up tweaks to his Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas’s efforts weren’t much better. The Finn was P19 and 3.8sec off the pace by the halfway point.
Charles Leclerc said he was “struggling like crazy” to make the first corner. The Ferrari driver had locked up heavily into the left-hander on the prototype tyres but was sitting in sixth place with 30mins to go.
Stroll had his second spin of the session on the exit of Turn 10. He lost the back end of the Aston Martin on power and was lucky to avoid tapping the barriers on corner exit. He just about got his car turned around without hitting anything to rejoin the session after facing backwards.
Hamilton put in a time good enough for P3 having switched over to the soft tyres but asked for a new set after spotting a deep groove in one of his rear tyres. A flurry of quick times put him down to fifth as Räikkönen popped up to third, Tsunoda second and Verstappen going fastest again, lowering the session-topping time to a 1min 05.143sec.
Not content with getting in the way of one world champion, Mazepin hindered Hamilton at Turn Three while he lazily moved off the racing line just as the Mercedes came by on a flying lap.
Bottas put himself P5 0.3sec down on Verstappen’s time on his soft tyre run, behind both Ferrari drivers as Leclerc headed up Carlos Sainz in second and third respectively. Rivals McLaren were mired down in 10th and 11th as Lando Norris headed up team-mate Daniel Ricciardo with 20 minutes remaining in the session.
Mazepin had one final moment of the session, almost dropping it over the crest at Turn One as he rode the sausage kerb on corner exit. He bounced his Haas across the exit, almost putting himself in the outside wall following his oversteer overcorrection.
With five minutes to go both Mercedes drivers were still struggling with the balance of their cars. Bottas and Hamilton both went deep on subsequent fast laps at Turn One with the latter reporting his tyres were “nowhere near ready” for a flying lap despite a preparation tour of the Red Bull Ring. They ended fourth and seventh fastest respectively.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 2, 2021
A 60% risk of rain had everyone out of the garages early doors in FP2 with Carlos Sainz reporting spots of drizzle on his outlap.
Plenty fitted the prototype tyres as tests continued into the second practice session with Verstappen going two-tenths faster than anybody in the opening minutes.
Traffic between Turns Nine and 10 was a problem with the track being so busy. Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Tsunoda and Stroll all hugged the inside line as Fernando Alonso and Sainz swept through on fast laps.
AlphaTauri’s Tsunoda showed decent speed in FP1 and continued that into the second session, going third fastest in the initial laps on medium tyres.
Having swapped over to the medium tyre, Bottas went fastest of all 15mins into the session on a 1min 05.602sec as the field headed back to the pits for adjustments and fresh rubber.
Charles Leclerc had been setting personal best sector times until a snap of oversteer on turn-in at Turn Nine put him off the track and ruined his lap. He held his slide and rejoined the track but remained in eighth.
Hamilton’s first attempt on mediums put him 0.024sec behind his team-mate before Räikkönen managed to wedge his Alfa Romeo between them. Verstappen’s flying lap restored the Red Bull to the top of the pile on his second run. He had to abandon a previous effort after catching traffic in the form of Norris up at Turn Three.
Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon popped up to second and third places respectively having fitted the red-walled tyres to kick-off flying laps on softs.
A flurry of improvements moved the likes of Aston Martin, AlphaTauri and Alpine up the order until Bottas became the first to break into the 1min 4s. His 1min 04.712sec was only three tenths quicker than the Dutch driver managed on the mediums.
Hamilton made a better improvement to bring the benchmark down to the mid-1min 4’s on a 1min 04.523sec. Verstappen didn’t make similar gains and slotted into third place two-tenths down on the best time.
Two quick laps from the Ferraris proved unspectacular as Sainz went 13th fastest and Leclerc 16th on the soft compound, well down on other midfield rivals.
Alonso came across more traffic between Nine and 10 and had to get well out of it to avoid running into the back of a dawdling Räikkönen.
Just as race runs started, Verstappen reported the rain was taking away grip and running was not worth it but was told to stick it out with conditions believed to be similar on Sunday.
As the rain increased, Hamilton found the gravel on the outside of Turn Four. The Mercedes driver locked up his tyres on corner entry and slid deep into the runoff before recovering to the track.
Team-mate Bottas reported that the weather was affecting his lap times as some handled the conditions and others struggled. Lando Norris suffered a spin in the final five minutes at Turn Two as the track grew damper.
The slight drizzle made race pace tricky to read into but Mercedes looked more comfortable and closer to Red Bull than it had done at the same point one week ago.
McLaren lagged behind Ferrari once more while George Russell showed glimpses of decent long-run speed though dropped off towards the end of his stint.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 2, 2021
More prototype test tyres for teams got half of the grid out onto the track in the opening 10 minutes of the final practice session.
AlphaTauri set the early pace with Gasly leading Tsunoda but both drivers have displayed strong pace on long runs and qualifying sims.
Mazepin was the first driver to lock-up heading into Turn Three to flat spot his tyres after just a few laps.
The top contenders took a while to get out onto the circuit until Bottas emerged with 20 minutes gone. His first time was good enough for P6 only but was lucky to finish his lap after dipping his tyres into the Turn Four exit gravel.
Norris wound up for a lap but a mistake at Turn One bounced him over the sausage kerb and ruined the lap just seconds after it started.
Times were slow to come in but Räikkönen’s 1min 05.6sec on the medium tyres was a decent benchmark for an Alfa Romeo that has been threatening strong pace all weekend.
Verstappen only emerged from the garage with 30 minutes left to run and was immediately onto the soft compound tyre. He got straight down to business and lowered the fastest time to a 1min 04.941sec, six-tenths clear of Leclerc.
After Gasly had a wide moment at Turn 10, Tsunoda got sideways himself on Turn Nine exit and somehow caught his AlphaTauri to prevent a visit to the barriers.
On course for a personal best, Sainz was the next to go wide at Turn 10, a snap on corner entry forced him to back out of his lap to prevent a spin. Simultaneously, Leclerc caught an oversteer moment to send him into the gravel at the exit of Turn Four before the Monégasque limped back onto the track.
Hamilton went for his first flyer but was deep into Turn One and locked up at Turn Three. He ended up half a second down on Verstappen’s time. Likewise, Bottas was no match for the Red Bull and was 0.6sec down.
George Russell briefly popped up to fifth in the Williams, 0.7sec off of Verstappen’s benchmark.
Mazepin found the escape road on the outside of Turn Four after running wide. The Haas recovered slowly onto the circuit after kicking up plenty of dust.
Norris was set to improve his ninth-fastest time but ran wide at the final corner, ruining a time that was set to be a 0.3sec improvement.
Hamilton put in an improvement with a fastest final sector time to reduce the gap to 0.053sec but had his time deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 10 by a narrow margin.
It didn’t matter though as Verstappen put in a 1min 04.591sec to extend his advantage to over half a second over Bottas in second.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 3, 2021