Le Castellet (France) (AFP) – Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton outpaced his rivals in two eventful practice sessions on Friday ahead of this weekend’s French Grand Prix.
The McLaren driver was quickest in both the morning and afternoon sessions, ending up seven-tenths clear of in-demand Australian Daniel Ricciardo who was second for Red Bull.
The session, run in hot conditions with track temperatures hitting 48 degrees Celsius (188 degrees Fahrenheit) and a gusty wind, was interrupted when Mexican Sergio Perez’s Force India car lost a wheel at speed through turns five and six.
The wheel detached from the car and bounced clear down the straight as Perez came to a halt. He was unhurt, but the session was red-flagged and halted temporarily.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was second in opening practice, suffered a water leak in the afternoon and wound up seventh after he was unable to complete the second session.
This allowed Dutchman Max Verstappen to take third behind his Red Bull team-mate and ahead of the Ferraris of Finn Kimi Raikkonen and championship leader German Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton was the first driver to dip into the 1:33’s and then clocked 132.539 to move seven-tenths clear of Ricciardo at the top.
This was clear evidence not only of Hamilton’s pure pace, but also his innate ability to learn a new circuit very quickly. The team did not reveal if he was using a revised or updated engine.
Behind the two Ferraris, Frenchman Romain Grosjean was sixth for Haas ahead of Bottas, two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of McLaren, Dane Kevin Magnussen in the second Haas and Frenchman Pierre Gasly.
Swede Marcus Ericsson, who had a high-speed crash in his Sauber at the end of the morning session, was unable to run as his car, which had burst into flames, was not repaired in time.
In a busy and incident packed afternoon, Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India, Raikkonen, Alonso and Grosjean all had “offs” without damaging their machines.