Mercedes completes practice sweep ahead of qualifying

Steve Etherington/Motorsport Images

Mercedes completes practice sweep ahead of qualifying

Formula 1

Mercedes completes practice sweep ahead of qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton completed a clean sweep of all three practice sessions, although with a reduced advantage, ahead of qualifying at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Hamilton topped the time sheet for final practice, but his benchmark of 1m04.130s was only 0.283s quicker than Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s best effort from third — much reduced compared to the 0.6s margin he held on Friday afternoon.

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Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes slotted between the two, roughly equidistant to his teammate ahead and the Red Bull Racing behind. Sergio Perez came next, his relatively lofty P4 placing perpetuating the intrigue surrounding Racing Point. Perez’s pink-liveried car was only 0.475s off the pace and quick enough to keep a one-tenth buffer to the quickest Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc momentarily gave Ferrari fans reason to hope for an overnight turnaround after its underwhelming Friday pace by putting his car atop the timing board after his first run on the soft-compound tire, but there was little extra performance to be squeezed from the SF1000 on subsequent laps, leaving him almost 0.6s adrift and just ahead of Alex Albon’s Red Bull.

Sebastian Vettel — 0.721s off Hamilton’s pace in P7 — headed an extremely tight middle pack, with the field down to 19th covered by less than a second. Lance Stroll was eighth quickest ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Lando Norris rounding out the top 10.

The session was notably tidier than the dual Friday practice sessions, with the track notably cleaner compared to the greasy conditions that greeted drivers on yesterday morning.

The only incident of note came from Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi, who became the first driver of the season to crash his car, spinning his wheels on the exit of the first corner and careering into the far-side barriers just before the half-hour mark of the session.

Two pirouettes after rebounding off the tire wall caused what appeared to be only superficial damage to the front and rear of his FW43, meaning the team should have little trouble repairing the car in time for qualifying.

TV replays showed Perez’s Racing Point machine appeared to expel a puff of oil smoke on the same apex a few minute earlier, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the track was slick at the time of the crash.

A 10-minute red flag intervention ensued to collect the stricken machine, leaving Williams with a little over two hours to ready it for the beginning of Q1.

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