Charles Leclerc was quickest in a bizarre second practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix that saw high-speed crashes for both Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen caused a red flag 35 minutes into the session when he lost the rear at the final corner, spinning through 180 degrees and sliding backwards into the barrier. The contact with the tire wall was significant, damaging the rear of the Red Bull, including the right rear corner.
The session was halted while the car was recovered, with Verstappen having to endure a jog back to the pits in full race suit and helmet in the hot conditions.
Within two minutes of the session restarting, there was another red flag and it was caused by an even heavier crash for Bottas. The Finn was fastest at the time but caught a snap of oversteer at Turn 5 and went off into the gravel at high speed. While he was trying to turn left, Bottas was unable to regain control through the gravel and hit the tire barrier head on.
The impact measured 25G and significantly damaged the front of the Mercedes, with Bottas heading to the medical center for checks before being released.
Strong winds could well have played a part in both incidents, with Sebastian Vettel then suffering an almost carbon copy of Verstappen’s crash. Vettel also lost the rear at the final corner — albeit slightly earlier than Verstappen — and slid sideways through the run-off area, just managing to stop in the gravel trap before the barrier. Vettel was able to limp back to the pits and rejoin later in the session, ending up eighth overall.
Leclerc set the pace with a 1m05.086s to lead Bottas by over 0.3s, with Pierre Gasly third for Red Bull, just 0.07s adrift of Bottas. Gasly had his own off at Turn 4 early on, but his recovery through the gravel was tame compared to the later crashes.
There was almost another incident in the final 10 minutes when Leclerc overtook Antonio Giovinazzi into Turn 3, but the Alfa Romeo driver appeared unaware of the Ferrari and turned in, very nearly making contact before taking avoiding action.
Lewis Hamilton — quickest in FP1 — was fourth in the second session after having his low fuel lap hampered by the red flags.
Carlos Sainz was fifth for McLaren and just 0.026s slower than Hamilton, but he also went off late on as he copied Bottas in running wide at Turn 4. Sainz was on the medium tire and had to correct as the rear stepped out, but went off at much slower speed and recovered through the gravel before rejoining.
Haas looks more competitive in Austria than it did in France, with Romain Grosjean sixth ahead of ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel, Verstappen and Lando Norris.
A number of teams suffered damage in the first session when drivers ran wide over the severe curbs at the Red Bull Ring, with Lance Stroll and Giovinazzi both suffering the same fate in FP2 when running wide at the final corner.