Free Practice 1 concluded with Lewis Hamilton top of the timing screen ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas by a mere 0.069 seconds. A Mercedes 1-2 has been an all too familiar sight in the 2019 F1 season so far and due to the struggles shown by Ferrari in FP1, it looked unlikely to change anytime soon. So, would Mercedes continue to dominate in FP2 and if so, could Bottas get back in front of his teammate?
Even before a car took to the Circuit Paul Ricard, questions were being asked as to whether the track temperature would continue to cause the trouble experienced in FP1 as commented on by Sebastian Vettel saying that he could not run two consecutive laps on the soft tyre compound. What we did know is that conditions should mirror the race conditions pretty accurately.
The first recorded time of the session was 1:35.683 by Daniil Kvyat but seeing how Hamilton’s fastest in FP1 was 1:32.738 these times would soon be falling. Lando Norris continued to show the form that captured a lot of attention in FP1 and he was fully deserving his moment in the spotlight at the top of the FP2 table...until Mercedes arrived at least. Norris’ teammate Carlos Sainz had a heavily affected session due to a broken diffuser which reduced his running time and with it the chance for the viewing public to see if he could beat his rookie teammate.
The session would be 20 minutes old before the Silver Arrows entered the fray so in the meantime there was a battle of Ferrari teammates to savour. The young Monegasque went first with Charles Leclerc under a tenth quicker than Norris whilst running the medium compound. It would take another two laps before his teammate Sebastian Vettel could strike back. However, this all paled in comparison with what Mercedes showed when they took to the asphalt.
Valtteri Bottas recorded a 1:32.4 on the mediums and showed the media that his form is not fading when this time was beaten by his own 1:31.1. Lewis Hamilton meanwhile was 2 tenths behind but looking quick but not comfortable at the wheel of his 2019 challenger. This became evident when later in the session Hamilton would first almost lose it at the chicane and then later completely run off the track completely and in doing so obliterating Max Verstappen’s hot lap. Hamilton would also obliterate a bollard in the session which makes the prospect of how this new measure will impact Sunday’s race all the more appealing.
Out in front Bottas got quicker and quicker breaking into the 1:30 mark on the soft with a 1:30.937, Hamilton was holding firm in second despite his off track adventure at 0.424 seconds behind. Then came the Scuderia Ferrari pair with Leclerc in third ahead of Vettel who is surely out with a point to prove this weekend after his Montreal incident – of which the right to review conversations seem to be getting ever louder with other drivers also coming out in support of the German.
Following this, it was time for the race simulations and the inevitable expectation that the lap times would not get any quicker and so it proved with Bottas’ quickest time not being removed from the top.
Another notable moment of FP2 saw Romain Grosjean locking up 15 minutes into the session and in doing so destroy half of his available sets of hard tyres for the weekend with Haas only bringing two sets in total for him to France. This could be a costly error for the experienced Frenchman. Grosjean had a session to forget but his team radio comment will be remembered: "I can't have a car which is f**king good over the first five corners, when I got there and I'm sideways."
Finally, the stewards decided that Hamilton and Verstappen’s incident would be investigated after the session due to a belief that the current World Champion rejoined the track unsafely – now there’s irony.
So, a more eventful FP2 than in previous race weekends. Let’s hope this continues throughout the weekend as well as the return to form for Bottas!