ISTANBUL (AP) – Formula 1 Champion Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in both practice sessions for the Turkish Grand Prix on Friday with a new engine.
The narrow league leader this season led the first session in front of title rival Max Verstappen and the second in front of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who drove impressively in both.
Hamilton pitted 10 minutes after the second run after complaining about lack of grip on his front tires.
Once the problem was resolved, the Mercedes star topped the ranking halfway from P2. He finished it 0.17 seconds ahead of Leclerc and 0.41 seconds ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen lacked his usual pace and finished fifth behind his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.
Even though the conditions in Istanbul Park were dry, veteran Kimi Raikkonen got wet feet when his water bottle spilled on his boots. The 41-year-old Finn didn’t live up to his nickname “The Ice Man” and used a variety of expletives to describe the ramifications while berating the mechanics of Alfa Romeo.
The Russian Nikita Mazepin, who like his Haas team-mate Mick Schumacher has not yet scored a point this season, lost control of his car and turned away from P2 towards the end.
A third practice session will take place on Saturday before qualifying.
Early on Friday, Hamilton placed .43 ahead of Verstappen and .48 ahead of Leclerc, with Bottas fourth.
Hamilton is leading seven races to go, including this one, two points ahead of Verstappen.
But that lead could well be lost on Sunday as Hamilton starts the race with a 10-place penalty for exceeding his allotment of three engines for the season. Mercedes installed a fourth combustion engine on Friday.
The track proved to be far more reliable than last year, when it had just been relocated for an F1 race for the first time since 2011 and was too slippery.
Drivers complained about the 5.3-kilometer route in 2020, comparing it to an ice rink. He finished sixth in that race after qualifying in second, while Hamilton moved up from sixth on the grid to win and claim a record-breaking seventh world title.
Red Bull is powered by Honda engines, but the Japanese manufacturer is pulling out of Formula 1 in late 2021. In honor of Honda, both Red Bull and the AlphaTauri feeder team have special liveries on their cars for this race, replacing the Japanese GP after it was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
The Red Bulls used a predominantly white paint scheme, inspired by the Honda that American driver Richie Ginther drove to victory in the 1965 Mexican GP.
Pierre Gasly and home favorite Yuki Tsunodas AlphaTauris had written “Arigato” – in Japanese as a thank you – on the rear wings.
Hamilton is applying for an eighth world title to surpass Michael Schumacher and stand alone among the Formula 1 greats. But Verstappen leads him 7-5 for wins this season and 7-3 for pole positions.
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