Lewis Hamilton has lost his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship but he was in great form on Friday in the first two practice sessions for the returning French Grand Prix.
It was a Mercedes 1-2 in the first practice session with Lewis Hamilton 0,140 seconds faster than Valtteri Bottas. Third place went to the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo who was 0.296 seconds off the pace with the Ferrari’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Championship leader Sebastian Vettel in fourth and fifth respectively.
Sixth place went to Romain Grosjean in his Haas with the other Red Bull driven by Max Verstappen in seventh who complained of problems with understeer and his car spent a fair amount of time in the garage. Eighth fastest was Pierre Gasly in his Toro Rosso with Sergio Perez ninth and Kevin Magnusson completing the top ten.
Initially Hamilton wasn’t pleased with his car despite it finally getting its engine upgrade and complaining about the handling of his Mercedes but finally got going. His best time of 1.32.231 was a second or so faster than he’d been managing earlier on.
The session ended four minutes early after Marcus Ericsson crashed his Sauber. He lost his car at the Beausset corner and smashed into the barrier. Thankfully he was unhurt but the same can’t be said of his car which caught fire at the rear. A broken wing mirror meant Ericsson didn’t actually know about the flames and was still sitting in his cockpit before finally realising the problem. It wasn’t a good session for his team-mate either. Charles Leclerc had spins at Turns One and Eight.
There were a fair few spins during the session with Raikkonen, Esteban Ocon and Brendon Hartley all having problems at Turn Six, so watch out for that on Sunday.
Behind Grosjean, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was seventh, complaining of understeer, and ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, Force India’s Sergio Perez and Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.
Also having a few problems was the Le Mans 24 Hour winner Fernando Alonso. His McLaren was as high as sixth early on in the session but he could only manage 16th in the end despite switching from the super-soft tyres to the supposedly faster ultra-soft ones.
Lewis Hamilton’s good day continued as he finished a convincing 0.704 seconds clear of the field in the second practice session. This time it was Daniel Ricciardo who finished second with team-mate Max Verstappen in third 0.028 seconds behind him. Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel filled fourth and fifth places respectively.
Romain Grosjean had another good session finishing sixth fastest just ahead of the other Mercedes. It wasn’t an easy session for Valtteri Bottas as his Mercedes suffered a water leak and was unable to have a qualifying or race run. Fernando Alonso finished in eighth, though he benefited from a run on the ultra-soft tyres right at the end of the session. It was an eventful session for the Spaniard running wide twice at Turn Two and spinning at Turn Three. The top ten was completed by Kevin Magnusson in ninth and Pierre Gasly tenth. Marcus Ericsson missed second practice after his earlier problems.
Just as in the first practice session, there was a delay with this time it being caused by Sergio Perez after his Force India lost a wheel. He was going at 170mph on the Mistral straight when it happened causing his car to go into a 180-degree spin. Just why the wheel came off isn’t yet known.
There was a ten-minute delay and the impact of that was qualifying simulation runs taking place at different times and differing track conditions. From what did take place it appears Mercedes have the advantage with Hamilton around 0.5 seconds a lap faster than Kimi Raikkonen judged by long runs on ultra-soft tyres. The good news for Ferrari though is that they did appear to have an advantage over Red Bull.
It should be an interesting race on Sunday with Sebastian Vettel describing the track as: “quite tricky here and there” I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on final practice and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sport