RACE DEBRIEF

    Less than a second covered the top eight drivers in Friday afternoon's practice in Austria, with Mercedes again just in front courtesy of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas...

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    Hamilton, who notably set his best time on Pirelli's soft tyre compound rather than the quicker supersofts and ultrasofts, was just a tenth up on Bottas to finish a second successive session in Spielberg top of the timesheet.

    The day's action had been fairly quiet until things were brought to a temporary halt when Pierre Gasly became the latest casualty to mount the Red Bull Ring's unforgiving kerbs, breaking his suspension and ending up beached in the gravel. Indeed, plenty of drivers went wide in this session including Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

    It was Vettel who was Mercedes’ nearest rival in third, just 0.236s behind Hamilton, though his Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen was back in sixth in another relatively low-key Friday session for the Prancing Horse.

    In between the two Ferraris was the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, this time the former finishing the 90 minutes as the quicker of the two in fourth. There was less than a tenth between them, though.

    Over at Haas, they continued their impressive start to this Austrian Grand Prix weekend with another consistent performance to ensure they finished the session as the fourth-best team. It was Romain Grosjean who led that charge again, coming home 0.130s ahead of team mate Kevin Magnussen in P7.

    Despite his earlier mistake, Gasly was able to return to the track thanks to some speedy repair work from the Toro Rosso mechanics – and it was ultimately a positive session for the Frenchman, coming home in ninth. The same can’t be said of team mate Brendon Hartley, who finished way down in P17.

    Perhaps the surprise result of the session was Stoffel Vandoorne taking tenth for McLaren. It’s been a hugely frustrating time for the Woking team of late, so this was a much-needed morale boost going into Saturday’s final practice and qualifying. A slight downer, however, was Fernando Alonso finishing second bottom.

    Renault were another team who slightly improved on their earlier FP1 performance. Carlos Sainz was once again the quicker R.S.18, finishing 11th, while Nico Hulkenberg was four places behind his Spanish team mate.

    Sauber seem up for this weekend too, as Charles Leclerc again demonstrated his Formula 1 prowess with a well-deserved P12. His team mate Marcus Ericsson took a trip through the gravel earlier in the session but bounced back to come home in 14th.

    Splitting those two was Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who is looking to get back to his usually-consistent ways having been forced to retire from three of the last five races. He’s certainly on the right path, getting the better of 18th-placed team mate Sergio Perez for the second session in a row.

    Over at Williams, their troubling run of form looks like it could continue this weekend. Sergey Sirotkin was back behind the wheel of his FW40 after Robert Kubica took his place in FP1, and he was 16th while team mate Lance Stroll was rock bottom of the standings.

    So again it was Mercedes who were top of the timesheet, but not by much. And with Ferrari often keeping their cards close to their chest in Friday running and Red Bull eager to make it a memorable home Grand Prix, expect an even closer battle come qualifying on Saturday.

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