Max Verstappen was fastest in second practice for the Styrian Grand Prix, which could mean he starts Sunday’s race from pole position after going four hundredths faster than Valtteri Bottas. The threat of thunderstorms could cause the cancellation of qualifying and the tight schedule means there is not much opportunity to run the session on Sunday morning.
Verstappen set his fastest time on the soft tyre in an unusual Friday afternoon which saw most of the teams use the session for single lap running rather than going for race runs. Bottas was able to edge out the Racing Points midway through the session followed by the Dutchman.
Verstappen was impressive on both short and long runs, beating Bottas on his qualifying simulation lap, and then lapping at very similar pace when they switched to race preparation.
Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll set the initial pace during their soft-tyre runs, sitting 1-2 at the halfway point in the session. Stroll completed three separate runs on fresh tyres, while Perez was able to get within one-hundredth of his Q3 time from last Saturday.
Verstappen had several lap times deleted for track limits, the stewards paying extra attention to the rules due to this potentially being the session which sets the grid. Bottas had to settle for second, but Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton struggled to a lowly sixth place after struggling during his qualifying simulation runs.
The six-times champion was unhappy with the setup of the car, with him hoping that if qualifying does take place tomorrow or Sunday morning that they can correct the pace issue and solve his problems. He never appeared to get any momentum going in the car.
He said, “There’s a lot of work going on in the background to try and figure out why. But I was feeling good in P1 and then start of P2 but then it started to drop off.”
Carlos Sainz underlined the pace of the McLaren going fifth fastest, six and a half tenths off the pace.
Daniel Ricciardo could have a difficult race ahead, should qualifying be cancelled, the Australian crashed heavily at the penultimate corner failing to set a lap time. He appeared to lose the rear through Rindt causing him to spin as he approached the final corner, before going into the barrier.
Alexander Albon ended the session seventh fastest for Red Bull, surviving two spins during the session, while Lando Norris took eighth in the sister McLaren.
Ferrari’s problems could be deeper routed and go beyond the works team, Charles Leclerc was ninth a second off the pace. While Alfa Romeo was close to half a second off his pace with Kimi Raikkonen only thirteenth ahead of teammate Antonio Giovinazzi.
Ferrari had brought forward its upgrades, which are aimed at reducing the performance shortfall it suffered at the opening race of the season. Sebastian Vettel was only sixteenth, despite the upgrades the German was almost two seconds off the pace. The four-times champion also had two of his lap times deleted for exceeding track limits.
He finished between the two Williams cars; Ferrari’s problems proven now not only affecting the works team but sister teams too. Power appears to be their weakness, as Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were the slowest setting times two seconds off the pace.
Williams got their first lot of decent running in with their race drivers, George Russell sat out FP1 with Jack Aitken driving his car he finished fifteen. Nicolas Latifi was seventeenth fastest after sitting out most of FP1 because of a gearbox issue.
If qualifying doesn’t take place on Saturday or Sunday morning, the grid could be interesting as Verstappen could be locked in a battle with Bottas throughout the race. Also, Ferrari will be unlikely to score a podium on merit with a fired-up Hamilton.