June 21 (IANS) Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton was on blistering form as he set the pace in his Mercedes during Free Practice One at the Circuit Paul Ricard race track near Versailles on Friday ahead of the French Grand Prix.
Hamilton, who leads the standings, stopped the clock on one minute, 32.738 seconds while his teammate, Valtteri Bottas came in second, just 0.069 seconds behind him, securing yet another Mercedes one-two at a track that many observers consider will likely favor the Silver Arrows during racing, having finished first in every session here last year. Bottas himself had said the previous day that he expected the Paul Ricard circuit would suit Mercedes better than Canada, where Ferrari crossed the line first but Hamilton won the race on a technical point, Efe news reports.
On this occasion, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was third quickest in FP1, once again proving that he can be faster than his teammate, four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel.
It was Vettel who took the checkered flag in Canada, but was judged to have forced Hamilton off the racing line by rejoining the race track dangerously after making a mistake that took him onto the grass, causing the Mercedes driver to slam on his brakes and back off mid-overtake.
Hamilton leads the championship on 162 points, 29 more than his teammate Bottas who is in second place, while Vettel is third, 62 points behind the standings leader.
The track, which was restored to the F1 racing calendar in 2018, was particularly dusty during the first half hour of practice, something that did not favor the home team, Renault, which spent considerable time in the pits trying to sort out cooling and aerodynamic problems.
However, it was floor difficulties that appeared to be the main issue for Renault, with both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg having to deal with smoke filtering into their cockpits from what looked to be the floors of their cars as they scraped on some of the bumps on the track.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen managed to run faster than Vettel, ending up fourth during the practice, while the German driver complained about his car.
Pierre Gasly lost grip on the track and spun, causing the most dramatic moment of the practice when he locked up and went into a full sideways skid across the track. “Not good,” the French driver said afterward.
Local hero, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas Ferrari, was hampered by a coolant leak, which meant he was only able to complete nine practice laps.
He ended up in 20th position, behind the two Williams cars of Nicholas Latifi and Robert Kubica.
Latifi was racing in his second consecutive FP1 for the team.