July 15, 2019
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Mercedes dominant in practice ahead of French F1 GP, finishing 1-2 twice

Paul Ricard Circuit (France), Jun 21 (efe-epa).- Mercedes put on a dominant performance in both free practice sessions at the Circuit Paul Ricard race track near Versailles on Friday ahead of the French Grand Prix this weekend.

While defending world champion Lewis Hamilton was on blistering form as he set the pace in the first session, his teammate Valtteri Bottas responded in the second session with the fastest time of the day: one minute, 30.937 seconds.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was third quickest in both sessions, with his teammate Sebastian Vettel improving to move into fourth for the final session, having come in behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen earlier.

Lando Norris found the circuit suited his improving McLaren during the second practice and came in fifth-fastest behind Vettel.

Bottas had predicted the previous day that he expected the Paul Ricard circuit would suit Mercedes better than Canada, where Ferrari crossed the finish line first but Hamilton was awarded the win on a technical point.

Five-times world champion 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 the practice sessions, something that did not favor the home team, Renault, which spent considerable time in the pits trying to sort out cooling and aerodynamic problems.

Hamilton had a complicated second session in which his car suffered four-wheel slides through Turns 3 and 4, ending up 0.424 seconds slower than Bottas.

Hamilton recovered from his slide and rejoined the track by Turn 5, but Verstappen had to go around him and ended up running off track.

Race stewards said they would investigate the occurrence after the session ended, and it may prove costly for the defending champion if they were to rule that he had moved into the racing line in a dangerous manner.

Although Vettel improved throughout the day, he never looked entirely comfortable, skidding off the track several times.

Renault had floor difficulties early in the sessions, 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.

Pierre Gasly lost grip on his Red Bull 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 the 20th position in the first session, behind the two Williams cars of Nicholas Latifi and Robert Kubica.

Latifi was racing in his second consecutive FP1 for the team.

Williams returned to the last two positions at the end of the second session.

vx/hh

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