Final practice at the Austrian Grand Prix topped by Sebastian Vettel.
Friday may have belonged to Lewis Hamilton in terms of pace. But on the back of the FIA confirming Lewis will take a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, the three-time champion limped home at the end of final practice with a brake failure. Sending the Mercedes off track at Turn 3, moments after the Briton hampered the progress of the pace-setting Sebastian Vettel.
Friday at the Red Bull Ring saw Lewis Hamilton set the pace in his Mercedes across both practice sessions. Leading the way from at first Verstappen, and then his title rival Sebastian Vettel. Yet although the likely driver to carry a grid-penalty to Austria was Vettel – following his Azerbaijan Grand Prix hit with Lewis – the man hit with one was Lewis Hamilton come Friday evening.
The team had been aware since Tuesday that they would require a gearbox change, after noting damage after the previous round in Baku. But rather than announce the change while the focus was on Vettel and any possible further punishment, Mercedes opted to retain the information until the FIA released the official documentation detailing Lewis’ five-place grid penalty.
Mercedes’ choice to preserve the information until Friday evening came as they deemed it more beneficial to retain their gearbox’s flaw as any “extra information may have been useful [to Ferrari]” – given Ferrari would then have known they had marginal room to focus on race pace rather than qualifying as Hamilton can start no higher than 6th.
Lewis’ new gearbox comes after surviving just two races, falling outside the mandatory six race window for a free gearbox change. But Hamilton’s new gearbox does not come as a result of the contact suffered to his rear when Vettel collided with it under the safety car in Azerbaijan.
While Hamilton’s gearbox lasted two races, though, Sainz looked out of FP3 after not even five minutes. Reporting an engine issue as he stopped on track after exiting Turn 1. His Toro Rosso team and the nearby marshals opted to hand the Spaniard a chance to get going again but after a period of patience, Carlos was unable to utilise his MGU-K to restart the engine and was craned from the track to a nearby service road. Thankfully for Toro Rosso, one in close proximity to the pits and they were able to repair the car.
Once cleared and the yellow flags were withdrawn, the first timed laps of the day were welcomed with Max Verstappen leading Ricciardo in a Red Bull one-two by a one-tenth of a second thanks to a 1:06.387 on ultrasoft tyres.
Setting the pace, however, did not stop Red Bull’s Ricciardo falling foul of Turn 9 like many of drivers on Friday. Failing to remain on track and running deep, yet able to continue without suffering damage like few before him.
Ricciardo then found himself falling down the order, too. With Mercedes hitting the top after a string of laps on their first timed runs seeing Bottas climb above Verstappen and Hamilton. Only for Vettel to smash home the fastest lap of the weekend to usurp P1.
One man forced to watch on, again, as Vettel moved atop the field was the ex-Ferrari racer, Fernando Alonso, as Honda and McLaren were forced to revert to the Spec-2 power unit previously raced rather than the Spec-3 upgrade the Japanese firm had brought to Spielberg with the intention to race. Vandoorne, on the other hand, continued to use the upgraded unit but was lapping three-tenths down on what Fernando had previously set.
With the Spec-2 power unit bolted into his McLaren, Fernando Alonso hit the track for a string of fast and slow laps. Moving up the order for 10th place with a 1:06.599 and hitting the radio with; “Did you check on the straights? Amazing!” A stark comparison to his usual radio exploitations at the Honda units negative elements.
But for all the good Fernando could find, his pace remained a second and a half off what Vettel had been capable of posting. And to add to that Fernando was now lapping slower than Vandoorne – albeit by just one-hundredth of a second.
Also running fast-slow-fast-slow laps was Friday pace-setter Lewis Hamilton. Coming at the expense of Sebastian Vettel, who may have been able of better his benchmark after posting purple sectors in one and two before catching the slow moving Mercedes in the final third of the lap.
Yet Vettel kept pushing and soon created a two-tenths margin to Hamilton at the top of the field. Blitzing home a 1:05.092, half a second faster than his team-mate was capable of in the closing stages of the session.
Hamilton, on the other hand, was soon limping home after an off at Turn 3 as he heavily locked his front-left tyre. The lock-up, however, was not the issue as lots of black smoke billowed from his right-front brake under braking. Forcing Lewis to return to pits extremely slowly while staying in second gear, knowing his front-right brake had failed and likely broke.
The team later confirmed that Lewis’ brake issue was a ‘problem with the team side’. Suggesting any failure was down to something not being correctly fitted, rather than the disc itself being at fault. Any relevant parts to be replaced will now be fitted ahead of qualifying.
|5||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||24||1’05.784||0.692|
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||29||1’05.896||0.804|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||28||1’06.279||1.187|
|10||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||19||1’06.284||1.192|
|11||Esteban Ocon||Force India||26||1’06.374||1.282|
|18||Sergio Perez||Force India||28||1’06.875||1.783|