Valtteri Bottas has topped the crucial second practice session at the Qatar Grand Prix after Red Bull Racing hit rear wing trouble.
With the sun down, lights on and track temperatures some 20 degrees F cooler, conditions representative of qualifying and the race, Bottas lowered the benchmark set in the afternoon session by almost 0.6s with a time of 1m23.148s. It was the Finn’s second hot lap on the same set of soft tires, having lost an almost identical time to track limits earlier in the session.
Pierre Gasly impressed with second in the order for the second straight session, the AlphaTauri driver just 0.209s shy of Bottas’s best.
But title leader Max Verstappen, third and 0.35s off the pace, was one of the key stories of the session. The Dutchman set just 20 laps for the hour, the equal fewest of any driver, after being sidelined through the session for repairs to his rear wing, his DRS flap having been spotted oscillating while open on the main straight.
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Teammate Sergio Perez, eighth 0.639s slower than Bottas, was similarly waylaid for rectification work, setting the same low lap total. It’s the fourth race weekend in a row the team has had to make repairs to its rear wing.
Hamilton enjoyed a comparatively smooth session, though he was 0.422s adrift of teammate Bottas and clearly less at home on the green circuit relative to the Finn, beaten in all three sectors of the Losail track.
The story was similarly positive for Mercedes over the race simulation runs. Bottas was comfortably quicker on his long runs with the medium tire ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton, although the title contenders undertook their longest stints on the soft tire.
Lando Norris was fifth for McLaren ahead of Aston Martin’s’ Lance Stroll and the second AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda in seventh.
Perez in eighth headed Sebastian Vettel in ninth, with Carlos Sainz completing the top 10 for Ferrari, the Spaniard 0.885s off the pace.
Alpine teammates Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were split by just 0.015s in 11th and 12th ahead of the second Ferrari and McLaren of Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo respectively.
Kimi Raikkonen was 1.4s off the pace at the head of an emerging backmarker pack at Losail. He was 0.4s quicker than Williams driver George Russell and half a second up on Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, with Nicholas Latifi 18th and just past 2s off the headline time.
Mick Schumacher was 19th for Haas, while his teammate, Nikita Mazepin, didn’t take part in the evening practice session thanks to a chassis problem that necessitated a tub change after the opening practice session.