Leclerc tops dramatic practice session as Bottas & Verstappen crash out

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc set the pace in a dramatic second practice session at the Austrian Grand Prix as Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen crashed.

Mercedes driver Bottas and Red Bull’s Verstappen both went off heavily, the session stopped each time for their badly damaged cars to be recovered.

And Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel also had a big spin, just avoiding a crash.

Leclerc ended up ahead of Bottas, Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly and championship leader Lewis Hamilton.

It is almost unprecedented for three such big-name drivers to have such significant incidents in one session – especially when no-one else crashed.

And it meant the times were not representative because, of the top four at the end of the session, only Leclerc and Gasly completed qualifying-style laps on low fuel, and even Leclerc’s was compromised.

The Monegasque had to back off on his first flying lap because Vettel had gone off at Turn 10 ahead of him.

He improved on his second lap – by going faster in the final sector where he had had to back off for yellow flags – but his first and second sectors were slower than on his previous lap. That means there was more time in his car because the tyres would have been past their best on the second lap.

The times that put Bottas and Hamilton second and fourth were set earlier in the session, on the medium and hard tyres. Verstappen ended up ninth.

What happened in the crashes?

Verstappen started off the incidents, when he lost the rear of his car in the middle of Turn 10, a demanding corner with a downhill entry and a compression at the apex.

He spun, and hit the barriers backwards, damaging a rear corner, and he swore repeatedly over the radio as he expressed his frustration at his error.

The session had barely restarted when Bottas lost control at Turn Six, a long, quick downhill left-hander. He lost the car just after getting on the power, caught the snap, but was already off the track, and speared through the gravel before a sizeable impact with the barriers.

That ruined Hamilton’s qualifying-simulation lap.

The Ferraris went out for their quick laps as soon as the track was re-opened after a second eight-minute stoppage. Both soon set fastest sector times, Vettel in the first sector and Leclerc in the second, before the German lost it on entry to Turn 10 – earlier in the corner than Verstappen had – and the car just stopped before hitting the barriers.

Later in the session, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz also went off at Turn Six, after a snap of oversteer on entry, but he managed to rejoin after a trip through the gravel.

It seems the strong, gusting wind was an influence on the errors drivers were making,

Some encouragement for Ferrari

Although it was impossible to compare the headline times for a true picture of competitiveness, there was some encouragement for Ferrari in the longer runs on race levels of fuel.

Leclerc’s long run was of a comparable pace to Hamilton’s, which raises some hopes Mercedes might have some opposition this weekend.

The silver cars have won every race so far this season, and Ferrari have let at least two opportunities to beat them slip through their fingers.

Behind the top teams, Sainz was fifth fastest, ahead of the Haas of Romain Grosjean, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel, Verstappen and the second McLaren of Lando Norris.

This article is from the BBC Sport website / bbc.co.uk – Leclerc tops dramatic practice session as Bottas & Verstappen crash out