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Hamilton tops Paul Ricard practice as Mercedes F1 introduce "phase two" power units

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Hamilton tops Paul Ricard practice as Mercedes F1 introduce "phase two" power units
By:
Jun 22, 2018, 6:23 PM

As teams and drivers explored the track boundaries on Formula One's return to the Circuit Paul Ricard, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton topped both truncat...

As teams and drivers explored the track boundaries on Formula One's return to the Circuit Paul Ricard, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton topped both truncated free practice sessions for the revived French Grand Prix.

With the team from Brackley looking to recover from their below-par performance in Montreal, Hamilton gave them the perfect start to the weekend by registering a timesheet-topping time of 1:32.539, several tenths of a second clear of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.

With Mercedes unable to bring updated power units to the previous race due to a quality control issue, all six Mercedes-powered cars were running with "phase 2.1" power units in Paul Ricard.

Mercedes explained that the upgraded engines would have been "phase 2" in Montreal, but in tackling the last-minute quality issue, the units have been labelled as "phase 2.1".

Red Bull, who are hoping to make use of the tighter, twistier parts of the circuit, as opposed to the high power sections, finished second practice in second and third place, with the pair separated by a couple of hundredths of a second.

As we've come to expect from Ferrari, their Friday running was less headline-grabbing. There were a couple of harmless spins from Kimi Raikkonen as he found the limits of adhesion, but he finished the day just behind the Red Bulls and a couple of tenths ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

"So-so. I think the car is quick, but I wasn't able to be quick with the car today," conceded Vettel.

"Sometimes you have these days. I think it's a tricky track. It's not easy to get everything right from start to finish, some corners are very difficult to find the sweet spot.

"On the long runs I think I was able to play with a bit more, try different things, different lines, trying to understand them a bit more.

"Hopefully I can start from there tomorrow and we should have more of a rhythm. car-wise I think we can improve as well, but it's not yet where it should be."

With the drivers entering the phase of the day where they complete qualifying and race simulations, the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas was parked in the garage with a water leak. The Finn managed just seven laps in FP2.

With Haas anticipating being able to challenge for a return to the points this weekend, Romain Grosjean took the midfield Friday practice honours, notably several tenths ahead of the next best midfielders, McLaren's Fernando Alonso and team-mate Kevin Magnussen.

Wheel detachments, red flags and driver errors

As many of the drivers were completing their qualifying simulations, the red flags were being waved after a wheel detachment on Sergio Perez's Force India.

Equipped with a set of new ultrasoft tyres, the Mexican was part-way through his flying lap before any issue occurred. He was negotiating the flat out turn seven when his left-rear wheel flew off the car and caused Perez to spin out.

As a result, Perez missed a large portion of the session, whilst Sauber's Marcus Ericsson missed free practice two altogether.

Free practice one was red-flagged with five minutes to go after Ericsson crashed his car into the barrier on the outside of turn six. The resulting impact caused a big fire at the back of the car and the Swede required a new chassis, which ruled him out of free practice two.

Elsewhere in the field, Brendon Hartley was forced to stop his ill-sounding Toro Rosso on track, bringing out the virtual safety car and interrupting the race simulations.

There were several driving errors throughout the day as many struggled with the strong headwinds and tailwinds. There were spins for the likes of Alonso, Raikkonen, Vandoorne, Hartley and the two Saubers.

FRENCH GRAND PRIX, Free Practice

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m32.539s - 27

2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m33.243s 0.704s 31

3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m33.271s 0.732S 24

4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m33.426s 0.887s 29

5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m33.689s 1.150s 35

6 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m33.699s 1.160s 30

7 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m34.156s 1.617s 7

8 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m34.400s 1.861s 24

9 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m34.457s 1.918s 33

10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m34.535s 1.996s 35

11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m35.067s 2.528s 30

12 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m35.086s 2.547s 33

13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m35.172s 2.633s 28

14 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m35.583s 3.044s 33

15 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m35.697s 3.158s 31

16 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m35.705s 3.166s 25

17 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m35.936s 3.397s 34

18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m35.970s 3.431s 35

19 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m36.080s 3.541s 13

20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari No time

By: Luke Murphy

All images: Motorsport Images

Who do you think is looking strong in France so far? What do you think of the circuit? Leave your comments in the section below.
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Series Formula 1
Author Luke Murphy