Max Verstappen topped the second free practice session at the French Grand Prix, just eight milliseconds ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas was fastest in first practice and looked competitive again in his Mercedes, with the Silver Arrows looking back on form after two out-of-sorts weekends in Monaco and Baku.
Sir Lewis Hamilton was behind the Finn in P3, Fernando Alonso raised eyebrows by placing his Alpine in P4 and Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari just behind.
Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez could not match the Dutchman’s pace, lagging 1.049s behind his Red Bull partner on their fastest times and sitting P12 at the end of the session.
After several spins in FP1 and complaints from Mercedes about the aggressiveness of the run-off strips at Turn 2, the cars took to the track again on a hot Friday afternoon in the south of France.
Nikita Mazepin was the first to turn his car around in FP2, getting on throttle too eagerly out of the final corner and spinning around helplessly on the pit straight – in a similar manner to Yuki Tsunoda’s troubles in first practice.
Turn 2 continued to be an issue for the drivers too, with Haas team-mate Mick Schumacher running wide after Verstappen clipped the rumble strip by running slightly – losing a part of his front wing in the process.
Jonathan Wheatley, Red Bull’s sporting director, was quick to address FIA radio and said: “Michael [Masi], we’re a little bit short on those bits of carbon so it would be great if we could get that back,” with perhaps a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
A brief Virtual Safety Car period followed as a marshal picked up the loose part, but it was Mercedes who set the pace again as Bottas put himself four-tenths ahead of Hamilton on a 1:32.880s – a whole second ahead of Verstappen in P3 with the teams on medium tyres at that point.
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Soft tyre runs came afterwards as the teams tested the fastest compound – in theory. The searing heat of the 47° track temperature appeared to have a negative performance on the softs, with Bottas unable to improve on his fastest time with what appeared to be a significant drop-off in grip towards the end of the lap.
Ocon, celebrating a new three-year contract with Alpine at his and the team’s home race, appeared to get the most out of his soft tyres and jumped in front of both Red Bulls to put himself P3 on a hot lap – but still 0.941s behind Bottas’ benchmark at the session’s halfway point.
“There’s something not right with the car, man,” was Hamilton’s assessment to race engineer Pete Bonnington after moving himself closer to Bottas’ time, while the Finn was on the radio to say: “Pace [is] way quicker than this morning,” summarising the contrasting feelings of the Mercedes pair.
Drivers started to work out how to extract the best from the soft compound after more running, however. Verstappen leapfrogged Bottas by 0.008s to top the standings, while Alonso and Leclerc jumped into the top five with their hot laps.
Time running out in FP2
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As ever in FP2, focus then swapped to long-run pace for the final part of the session as Red Bull appeared to bridge their gap to Mercedes from the morning session.
Alfa Romeo have been hopeful about their chances moving forward, with team principal Frederic Vasseur saying the race in Baku ‘masked’ the true pace of the car, and Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi backed that up by showing competitiveness in placing P9 and P11 respectively.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:32.872 21 laps
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.008s 27 Medium tyres
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.253s 23
4 Fernando Alonso Alpine 0.468s 24
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.678s 23
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine 0.813s 23
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.824s 25
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.826s 24
9 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 0.914s 26
10 Lando Norris McLaren 0.950s 24
11 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 0.959s 22
12 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1.049s 24
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1.083s 25
14 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.207s 24
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1.575s 24 Medium tyres
16 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1.760s 23 Medium tyres
17 George Russell Williams 2.394s 25
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams 2.459s 25
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas 2.679s 23
20 Mick Schumacher Haas 3.761s 24
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