Max Verstappen narrowly bested Valtteri Bottas for the fastest time of an intriguing second practice for the French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard, despite the two drivers using different tire compounds.
Verstappen came through late with a lap on the soft tire to top Bottas by just 0.008s, but neither Bottas nor Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton could keep the grippiest compound alive for long enough to set a contending time.
Bottas’s best effort was instead set on the medium compound — his best on the soft was more than 0.3s off the pace — while Hamilton was 0.253s adrift on the qualifying rubber.
Verstappen’s teammate — Baku winner Sergio Perez — was way off the pace in 12th, more than a second shy of the benchmark.
The Dutchman’s day wasn’t completely clean — he did lose a front wing element early running over the high curbs at Turn 2, causing a brief virtual safety car. Red Bull Racing appealed to race director Michael Masi, as Mercedes did in first practice, to have the curbs removed, but to no apparent avail.
🔎 Damage to @Max33Verstappen's front wing
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 18, 2021
As was the case for F1’s previous visit in 2019, the interaction between Pirelli’s softest compound and the hot track temperature appears set to play a key role in unlocking performance.
The track surface hovered around 115 degrees F through the session as the dark-colored tarmac absorbed the plentiful sun, and the effect was clear to see on both Mercedes drivers’ laps. Both drivers set purple first sectors but saw their times slip away from the bar until they crossed the line despite being faster than Verstappen in the power-sensitive middle sector.
But Hamilton suggested there was more at play in at least his own subdued performance, radioing his team that “there’s something not right with the car” after his run on softs — and his average pace on the medium tire put him some way behind Verstappen and substantially adrift of Bottas. It begged the question of whether Mercedes’s decision to switch his and Bottas’s chassis ahead of this round — a procedural preplanned change the team says is unrelated to its recent struggles — is playing a role in the disparity between its drivers.
Fernando Alonso put home team Alpine fourth and a competitive 0.468s off the pace. Charles Leclerc followed in a much-improved showing relative to the morning session ahead of Esteban Ocon in the second Alpine, the Frenchman having saved his session early when he spotted a visor tear-off fly into one of his brake ducts and returned to the pits to have it fished out.
Pierre Gasly was seventh for AlphaTauri ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Lando Norris completed the top 10 for McLaren, reasserting himself over teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who was 14th and more than 0.2s slower.
Antonio Giovinazzi was the final driver within a second of Verstappen in 11th. The Alfa Romeo was ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Perez and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
Aston Martin’s difficult day continued, with Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll 15th and 16th more than 1.5s off the pace, after Vettel lost time early in the morning session with a spin into the barriers. Only Williams pair George Russell and Nicholas Latifi and Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were slower, filling the bottom four spots on the time sheet.