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Verstappen off to a strong start in Austria


Ahead of today's sole practice session - it is a Sprint weekend after all - the air temperature is 17.4 degrees, while the track temperature is 37.3 degrees C. It is bright and sunny, but very windy, with 0% chance of rain.

Following the raft of upgrades last weekend, this week they are few and far between.

Red Bull brings a new engine cover, floor fences and front corner, McLaren a revised rear corner and rear wing, Alpine a new rear wing, Williams a revised front suspension and, er... that's it.

Only one team broke the overnight curfew and that was Williams as the Grove outfit continues to work on Albon's car following last week's crash. Once again, the Anglo-Thai driver is the only one of the Williams pair to be running the upgrade introduced last weekend.

Interestingly, none of the team bosses are present for the start of the session as they are attending a meeting of the F1 Commission a few miles from the track... which is going to be frustrating for the Sky team should it want to hear the thoughts of Mr Horner.

The lights go green and Albon leads the way, followed by Stroll, Alonso, Norris and Zhou.

Soon all bar Bottas are on track, all on mediums.

No install laps today, instead most remain on track and soon the timing screen lights up. Of the first wave, Verstappen goes quickest (8.656), ahead of Ocon, Alonso, Ricciardo and Gasly.

An 8.501 sees Magnussen go top, as teammate Schumacher goes third (8.953).

Being such a short lap (2.6 miles) the times are constantly changing, and no sooner has Alonso gone top than Verstappen goes quicker (7.720).

Bottas finally heads out, the Finn immediately going 8th with a 9.277.

"Is it the wind, the car is moving a lot on the straights," enquires Gasly.

An 8.782 sees Bottas improve to 5th, ahead of Ocon, Leclerc, Schumacher, Zhou and Gasly.

"I need to cool down the car," warns Sainz, "the rear tyres."

Ocon improves to fourth, behind Verstappen, Alonso and Leclerc.

Given a litany of instructions by what sounded like a new engineer, Hamilton replies: "That's a load of instructions and I don't understand what you said, mate."

First the yellows, then the red flag as Norris grinds to a halt at Turn 6. "I'm on fire, I need to stop," says the Briton. "There's smoke coming from under my seat, mate, so I've got to get out."

This is a disaster for the Briton and his team, for he will head into qualifying this afternoon with just 14 laps under his belt.

The session resumes with 33 minutes remaining.

Meanwhile, Guenther Steiner is the first of the team bosses to arrive back in the paddock.

Leclerc goes second with an 8.064 as Russell posts an 8.270 to go fourth.

At which point, Leclerc, like Verstappen and Vettel, switches to softs.

The Monegasque crosses the line at 6.650. as Sainz (softs) goes second (7.149).

Verstappen responds with a 6.302, to go quickest by 0.348s.

Magnussen runs wide in Turn 2, just moments after a similar error by his Haas teammate. The Dane subsequently improves to fourth with a 7.267 on the mediums.

Bottas (softs) goes fifth with a 7.522.

Strangely, Hamilton is still down in 14th, despite having completed 13 laps.

With 21 minutes remaining, the session is red flagged for a second time. Bottas reports debris - seemingly a strip of rubber - at the exit of Turn 6.

Prior to which, Verstappen reported his unease as one of the Ferraris grinding to a halt on the racing line at Turn 3.

The session resumes with 16 minutes remaining and during the stoppage Norris' McLaren has arrived back in the pitlane.

The qualifying sims get underway, Perez immediately improving to fourth with a 7.254, albeit almost a second off his teammate's pace.

However, Hamilton responds with a 6.909, though the Briton appeared to exceed the track limits at a couple of points.

Russell goes third (6.776), as Stroll improves to 9th.

Having taken on a number of new components, Bottas will start the race from the back of the grid.

Alonso, who has yet to try the red-banded rubber, remains 6th, having been demoted when Sainz posted a 7.039 to claim 5th.

Stuck in traffic, Verstappen slows to allow himself some breathing space. Teammate Perez goes seventh (7.132).

A 6.965 sees Magnussen go fifth, as teammate Schumacher goes ninth with a 7.246.

As the clock ticks down, the McLaren pair remain 19th and 20th.

"Did you see that Aston," asks Verstappen of Vettel. "Yes, we've reported it," comes the reply.

As Hamilton runs wide in Turn 1, Alonso, Ocon and Ricciardo are the only drivers still on mediums.

"This ******* Ferrari, this ******* idiot, they can't get look in their mirrors," moans Gasly, of a certain Spaniard who recently won a Grand Prix.

Ricciardo can only improve to 17th (7.743).

The session ends. Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Leclerc, Russell, Perez, Hamilton, Magnussen, Sainz, Alonso, Schumacher and Tsunoda.

Stroll is eleventh, ahead of Ocon, Vettel, Bottas, Albon, Gasly, Ricciardo, Zhou, Latifi and Norris.

Check out our Friday gallery from Spielberg here.


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