Formula One: Hamilton lays down marker in Austria

British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG GP in action during the first practice session of the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at the Red Bull Ring circuit in Spielberg, Austria, on July 7, 2017.
British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG GP in action during the first practice session of the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at the Red Bull Ring circuit in Spielberg, Austria, on July 7, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

Mercedes driver means business, topping both practice sessions ahead of rival Vettel

SPIELBERG (Austria) • Lewis Hamilton delivered an emphatic signal of his intent when he completed a Friday double by topping the times for Mercedes in both practice sessions for tomorrow's Austrian Grand Prix.

In the wake of the controversy that followed championship leader Sebastian Vettel's "road rage" attack at last month's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Hamilton had decided to put the incident behind him and do his talking on the track.

The Briton, at his sizzling best despite power problems with his car, clocked a best time of 1min 5.483sec in the afternoon's second session to outpace Vettel's Ferrari by 0.147sec.

It was a record lap for the Red Bull Ring, where he had set the previous best time in first practice, beating his own record set last year by two-tenths of a second.

The three-time world champion's team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third ahead of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo.

German Vettel, with 153 points, leads Hamilton at the top of the drivers' standings by 14 points as he looks to win a fifth world title.

Earlier yesterday, Red Bull slapped down Carlos Sainz for suggesting he was likely to leave their Toro Rosso Formula One team at the end of the season, prompting a swift U-turn by the Spanish driver.

"He's under contract and we have an option on him for next year and the year after," Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports.

"He'll be in a Toro Rosso again next year."

Sainz had told reporters on Thursday that he was unlikely to stay for a fourth season and was open to offers. The 22-year-old, who has eclipsed Russian team-mate Daniil Kvyat this season, is seen as a rising star and media speculation has linked him to a number of other teams.

"I don't know where he thinks he'll be," said Horner. "He only got a chance in F1 because of Red Bull investing in him in the junior years. It's a little bit disingenuous to be making comments like that. A lot of investment goes into these guys to give them the opportunity."

Sainz appears to have no chance of moving up to Red Bull next year since the former constructors' champions have Ricciardo and Verstappen locked in.

Horner said there was no change of plan there and "both drivers will be with us 100 per cent".

Toro Rosso, established as a feeder team for Red Bull, has a history of moving young drivers upwards or out.

Those who have graduated include Vettel, who won his four world titles with the Austrian team.

Others have been less fortunate, their Formula One careers effectively ended after being cast out of the Red Bull fold.

Kvyat is in the rare position of having been promoted and then demoted again in a swop with Verstappen, who won in Spain on his Red Bull debut last year.

"I'm ready to take a step," Sainz said after Horner's comments. "My No. 1 target is to be in Red Bull as soon as possible."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2017, with the headline 'Hamilton lays down a marker in Austria'. Print Edition | Subscribe