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Verstappen throws down the gauntlet

NEWS STORY
05/11/2021

Ahead of today's second practice session, the air temperature is 21.7 degrees C, while the track temperature is 44.3 degrees. It remains bright but cloudy.

The top four - Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen and Perez - were covered by just 0.269s earlier, with Mercedes looking more competitive than we expected.

However, it is early days.

The dusty conditions caused issues for most drivers, most notably Leclerc and Perez, who both clouted the barriers, while Hamilton and Raikkonen received reprimands for not following the correct procedure on rejoining the track after going off.

The biggest surprise was the lack of pace from the McLaren pair, with Andreas Seidl unable to offer much in the way of comfort for his drivers or their fans.

Cooling, reliability and downforce are the main issues here warned the German.

The lights go green and first out is Raikkonen, followed, as was the case in FP1, by Schumacher.

In no time at all there are 16 drivers on track, and once again all the compounds are in use, though Norris is the only driver running softs.

Just moments in and there is some argy bargy at the entrance to the stadium as drivers seek some clear space.

In the meantime, Raikkonen opens proceedings with a 27.458.

There's an early moment for Hamilton as the track remains exceedingly dusty.

Verstappen posts 18.818 to go quickest, ahead of Tsunoda and Perez, as Bottas and Hamilton can only manage 6th and 16th due to their traffic issues.

Norris goes fourth and Gasly sixth, as Verstappen, on mediums, goes quickest in all three sectors, stopping the clock at 18.206.

Raikkonen and Hamilton appear to be tied together with an invisible rope, the pair constantly sharing the same piece of tarmac.

The world champion, on hards, improves to second with an 18.779, only to be demoted when Perez (softs) crosses the line at 18.684.

Gasly improves to third with an 18.982 as Hamilton has his time deleted for a double yellow infraction in Turn 11, likewise Tsunoda and Latifi.

As Hamilton complains "these tyres are done, man," Verstappen is the first driver to break the 1:17 barrier (17.920).

Finally heading out, 14 minutes into the session, Russell has only gone a few corners before complaining: "The gearbox has gone."

Told not to change gear, he slowly makes his way back to the pits.

Sainz improves to seventh with a 19.334, while Tsunoda splits the Bulls with an 18.644.

The Japanese subsequently pits, leaving Bottas and Vettel to enjoy an empty track.

Making the most of the lack of traffic, Vettel (softs) improves to third with an 18.681. Moments later, Bottas, also on softs, posts an 18.032 to go second, just 0.112s off Verstappen's best, albeit on mediums.

"Sorry for that, I wasn't looking," admits Vettel as he stops at the wrong pit box.

Russell's session is clearly over as the driver is in his civvies and is up on the pit-wall.

Gasly goes third with an 18.429 as more and more drivers head out, the majority appearing to be on softs.

Among them is Verstappen who blitzes the second sector, finally crossing the line at 17.301, just moments after Hamilton had taken the top spot with a 17.810, that's a 0.509s difference.

Leclerc goes sixth (18.605), ahead of Tsunoda, Vettel, Alonso and Norris.

Sainz responds with an 18.600 to demote his Ferrari teammate, as Perez goes third with a 17.871 on his second flying lap.

Meanwhile it is reported that Ricciardo has a gearbox issue. The Australian is currently 16th, having completed just 7 laps.

On his second flier, on tyres 11 laps old, Bottas improves to second with a 17.725, but remains 0.424s off Verstappen's pace.

Looking ahead to Sunday, Gasly switches to the hards, as does Stroll. The Canadian, like Tsunoda, will start from the back of the grid after taking on a new engine.

"I'm having the same problem as Austin," reports Ocon, "the car's turning itself."

Onboard coverage catches a big wobble for Alonso between Turns 7 and 8.

A mistake by Latifi at Turn 16 sees the yellows waved. The Canadian does well to keep it out of the barriers.

As he posts a 1:21, Verstappen is advised that Hamilton just lapped at 21.3 and Bottas at 21.7.

As the clock ticks down to 6:00, all bar Russell and Ricciardo are on track.

"Engine braking is horrible," declares Tsunoda.

Ocon has completed the most lap (35), ahead of Stroll (34), Tsunoda and Vettel (30).

"I'm struggling so much with the engine issue," says a breathless Leclerc. He pits, only to be sent on his way again.

The session ends. Quickest is Verstappen, ahead of Bottas, Hamilton, Perez, Sainz, Gasly, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Vettel and Alonso.

Raikkonen is eleventh, ahead of Norris, Giovinazzi, Ocon, Ricciardo, Schumacher, Stroll, Latifi, Mazepin and Russell.

Of course, the big question is whether Mercedes has anything in reserve, for that 0.424s advantage looks pretty good for Red Bull at the moment.

Then again, following the opening day in Austin it was the Austrian team that was lagging behind, and look how it turned that weekend around.

Check out our Friday gallery from Mexico City, here.

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