SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel pushed Formula One title rival and home race favourite Lewis Hamilton off the top of the British Grand Prix practice timesheets in a sizzling Friday session while Max Verstappen crashed.
Hamilton, winner for the past four years at Silverstone and five times in total at his home track, had started the day by leading a Mercedes one-two in the hot opening session.
Vettel, who leads the Briton by a point in the championship after nine races, put in a lap of one minute 27.552 seconds in the afternoon to end the session 0.187 faster than his fellow-four-times world champion.
That was still slower than Hamilton’s morning time of 1:27.487, however, with Vettel third then and half a second slower.
“We had a good Friday, everything we put on the car seemed to work, and I felt happy with the balance of the car straight away and managed to find a good rhythm from the beginning,” said Vettel.
Hamilton enthused about the track conditions and the speed, helped by fresh asphalt and the effects of the drag reduction system, and expected a close fight with Ferrari in Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race.
“It feels like driving a fighter jet around the track,” said the Briton. “However, it is also the bumpiest track I’ve ever experienced.
“With the speeds we’re going now and the G forces we’re pulling, I think it’s going to be the most physical race of the year.”
Hamilton’s Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, with a new engine in his car after last weekend’s mechanical retirement in Austria, was second and third fastest respectively in the two sessions.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen traded fourth and fifth places while Max Verstappen, winner in Austria for Red Bull, was sixth in the morning but crashed after lunch without setting a time.
The 20-year-old Dutchman, whose crash brought out red flags, had ended the first session early after he was told to stop the car.
“I think I was a bit too quick on the hard tyre; I tried to go too fast through the corner and I just lost it,” said Verstappen.
“The feeling is good and the car is working quite well but we are just losing a lot of time on the straights which is unfortunate.”
Haas’s Romain Grosjean had a heavy crash at the fast first corner, slamming into the tyre barriers after failing to close the drag reduction system (DRS), in the morning and did not take part in practice two.
“The car is destroyed,” the Frenchman, who was unhurt by the impact, said over the radio. “I’m very, very sorry guys. I think it was the bump. I missed the (DRS) button.”
Team boss Guenther Steiner said the team needed to rebuild the chassis.
Grosjean’s team mate Kevin Magnussen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso were called to see stewards for a “potentially dangerous manoeuvre” after an incident between them early on but stewards ruled there was no further action needed.
“Magnussen tried to hit me two times - in one and three,” Alonso reported over the radio. “Very dangerous.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris