Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas continued their total dominance with another one-two to top the times in Saturday’s third and final free practice at the belated season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
It was the third consecutive session in which the newly-repainted ‘black arrows’ had topped the times together and came after Red Bull’s formal protest of the team’s innovative new dual-axis steering (DAS) system had been rejected.
Six-time champion Hamilton clocked a best lap in one minute and 4.130 seconds to outpace Bottas by 0.147 seconds, leaving third-placed Max Verstappen a further 0.2 seconds adrift in his Red Bull.
Sergio Perez was an impressive fourth in Racing Point’s ‘pink Mercedes’, a car that is tipped to be best of the rest behind the leading teams this year, this time ahead of Charles Leclerc in the leading Ferrari.
Alex Albon was sixth in the second Red Bull ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, in his final season with Ferrari, Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point, Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri and Lando Norris of McLaren.
The session was run in warm and dry conditions at the Red Bull Ring in the Styrian Alps with only one major incident interrupting the action when Canadian Rookie Nicholas Latifi crashed at Turn One in his Williams after 25 minutes. He was unhurt.
Back with a bang?
“It’s great to be back,” Hamilton, who is seeking to draw level with seven-time champion Michael Schumacher in the record books, had said earlier as he looks set to continue his dominance.
“It’s been a long time coming, so it feels great to feel the new car for the first time since February.
“It’s quite a big difference to the one we got to test at Silverstone and I don’t remember what I was like in February, to be honest. It was so long ago.”
Hamilton said he would take his initial supremacy over his competitors “with a pinch of salt” after a performance that appeared to send a message to his rivals and a power boost to the Black Lives Matter movement that he and his team have embraced and supported.
“What’s positive is the car felt good today,” he said. “It definitely feels like in general, compared to last year, we have continued to improve it and that is a positive.”
(With AFP inputs)