Verstappen sets early Styrian Grand Prix pace amid weather warnings

By Sports Desk July 10, 2020

Max Verstappen roared to the fastest time in Friday practice - and it could yet net him pole position for the Styrian Grand Prix.

The second successive weekend of Formula One racing in Spielberg, Austria, risks being disrupted by wet, stormy weather on Saturday.

Should third practice and qualifying not take place prior to Sunday's race, then the grid will be arranged based on Friday's times.

Forecasts of possible flash flooding in the region have not gone unnoticed in the paddock, with reports of drivers being more eager than usual to post quick times in practice.

The Formula One official website reported Pierre Gasly telling his AlphaTauri team: "If this is quali, we didn't maximise it."

Verstappen, who won the Austrian Grand Prix last year at this circuit, clearly likes the track and the Red Bull driver's quickest time of one minute and 3.660 seconds set a target no rival could match.

Last weekend's race winner Valtteri Bottas outpaced Mercedes team-mate and six-time champion Lewis Hamilton, finishing second in FP2, just 0.043secs behind Verstappen.

Racing Point duo Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were third and fourth respectively, with McLaren's Carlos Sainz fifth fastest and Hamilton a modest sixth, almost seven tenths of a second behind Verstappen. Perez topped the timesheets in the day's first session.

Ferrari had a dismal time of it, with Charles Leclerc well off the pace in ninth, over a second behind Verstappen, while team-mate Sebastian Vettel was a lowly 16th, close to two full seconds slower than the man in first place.

At least they both posted FP2 times, unlike Daniel Ricciardo who clattered his Renault into a tyre wall in the early stages of the session to bring out the red flag. The Australian avoided serious injury and was given the all-clear by medics.

Lando Norris, meanwhile, faces some disappointment on Sunday, no matter how much or how little track activity there is before the race.

He was eighth quickest in FP2 but was dealt a three-place grid penalty after overtaking when yellow flags were waved in the opening session.

The 20-year-old British driver secured a maiden F1 podium last weekend in the Austrian Grand Prix, finishing third, but will have his work cut out to achieve a similar result this time.

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    Lewis Hamilton was excited by Max Verstappen's surprise win at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix but insists Mercedes will not take their success for granted.

    Hamilton has dominated Formula One, winning the past three drivers' championships, and the Mercedes superstar leads the standings again in 2020.

    However, the Briton missed out on a fourth race win in succession and a second in two weeks at Silverstone on Sunday.

    With Mercedes' tyres blistering in the heat, Verstappen's Red Bull car thrived in the conditions and he triumphed to move second for the year, 30 points behind Hamilton.

    Defending champion Hamilton welcomed the challenge, though, telling a post-race news conference: "I think it's great.

    "As I said before, I want to have races where they're challenging - like today - so I'm excited to watch this race.

    "Obviously the Red Bull seems to be quite close in race conditions to us and obviously today is stronger, so it shows they don't have as bad a package as perhaps people had said in the past

    "But I think it's good. It will be interesting to see the progression through the rest of the year and I definitely will not overlook them.

    "I think we've got to keep a close eye on them and keep working to push forwards, because I don't think it's going to be easy by any means.

    "But I don't think my team has that mentality anyway, so we just keep our heads down.

    "I was hopeful today that maybe we would have – wishful thinking - some sort of race towards the end, but maybe in the future we will get to have some, a bit more."

  • Fourth 'feels like a victory' for Ferrari's Leclerc Fourth 'feels like a victory' for Ferrari's Leclerc

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    The Scuderia are struggling in 2020 but Leclerc was pleasantly surprised by the pace in his SF1000 at Silverstone on Sunday. 

    With a number of his rivals - including both Mercedes cars - suffering in testing conditions for tyres, Leclerc required just one stop, a strategy shared by Renault's Esteban Ocon and Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen. 

    Having started eighth on the grid, Leclerc was delighted with the achievement, even if fourth represents a modest prize compared to Ferrari seasons past. 

    "I'm so happy today. For me, it feels like a victory," Leclerc told Sky Sports. "It's not looking good once we call a fourth place a victory, but at the moment it's where we're at. 

    "Last year, I think my weakest point was the tyre management and I've worked very hard. Every time that I work, and I see the results on track, it's a huge satisfaction. 

    "To get fourth place today... I expected to go eighth in a best-case scenario this morning - or further down the grid. I'm extremely happy with fourth place. 

    "We were very happy and, to be honest, we need to analyse to understand why we were so quick, because I don't really understand for now." 

    However, while Leclerc was pleased with a result that took him up to fourth in the drivers' standings, things went from bad to worse for team-mate Sebastian Vettel. 

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    "I'm not sure what it is. Nevertheless, I get out of bed and try to do the best that I can. 

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  • Hamilton grateful to salvage second after 'hardcore’ tyre issues Hamilton grateful to salvage second after 'hardcore’ tyre issues

    Lewis Hamilton was grateful to salvage second place in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after Mercedes' tyres caused problems again at Silverstone.

    Pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton both struggled throughout with blistering that the six-time Formula One champion described as "hardcore".

    Max Verstappen did not encounter such tyre issues as Red Bull's strategy to start the Dutchman on the hard compound propelled him to a brilliant victory from fourth on the grid.

    Hamilton, who limped to victory at the British Grand Prix last week with a puncture, briefly pondered staying out on a risky one-stop strategy to deny his Red Bull rival late in the race.

    He ultimately opted to pit for fresh tyres and, having returned to the track in fourth, promptly swept past Charles Leclerc and then Bottas to claim a second-place finish and remain in control of the drivers' championship.

    "It was a massive challenge," Hamilton, who now leads Verstappen by 30 points and Bottas by 34, said after the race. 

    "Congratulations to the Red Bull team and to Max. You look at the tyres and they obviously didn't have the problems we had.

    "Definitely unexpected to have the blistering as hardcore as we experienced. [We don't know the cause], not that I'm aware of.

    "I'm sure the team will be working as hard as they can because we've not had [those tyre issues] before. I don't know if anyone struggled with blistering like we did.

    "But I'm really grateful to progress [through the field] and manage to get my way through until the end."

    Hamilton, who also had the fastest lap, continued: "That middle stint I was managing to the best of my ability, but it didn't make a single difference to that blistering.

    "I was driving with half a tyre basically - it held together but I was nervous it was going to explode or something."

    Hamilton was unsure there was a way Mercedes could have stopped Verstappen from triumphing under the circumstances.

    "Such a difficult race," he added to Sky Sports. "I love a challenge, so it was good, but it was just unexpected. 

    "The last race we had understeer and were struggling with the front tyres blistering and running out. Now this weekend, it's the complete opposite, the rear. There was nothing we could do. 

    "We tried to go slower through the corners to save it and it wouldn't work. It was a real shock. I couldn't then attack Valtteri, who was pulling away [at the start]. 

    "But I was really grateful in the second stint that I was able to extend. I was thinking, 'Should I stay out?'

    "I know now I couldn't have matched Max's times at the end, so he would have caught me and the tyres might have blown out.

    "If the rear goes, that's a spin, a crash in the wall. I think it was a good decision in the end by the team [to pit].

    "I don't know how [we could have won] exactly. Could we have done better? For sure. But I still think they would have won - they didn't seem to have the same huge band on the left rear."

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