After a strong performance from Red Bull during last weekend, in the Styrian Grand Prix, Mercedes spent all week to try to bounce back. And they did.
The first free practice session saw Max Verstappen on top of the standings again, with Bottas in fourth and Hamilton in seventh. Things changed in the afternoon, when a slight but constant rain fell over the Red Bull Ring. The Brackley team then ended up the first free practice day with a one - two finish, with Sir Lewis in the lead. A small goal, compared to all the great achievements of this team since the start of the turbo - hybrid era, but Red Bull has won the last four races and Toto Wolff's team needs to score a good results to close the gap in both constructors and drivers championship.
Lewis Hamilton tried some new set-up configurations coming from the simulator, but the seven time world champion then opted for last week's balance and this is why he only finished 7th in FP1.
"Red Bull have definitely got something extra in their bag but we’ve made some small steps forward and over a single lap, the car felt pretty good. FP1 was a bit of a struggle, we were trying different set up variations based on our work in the sim this week and the car wasn’t happy," the world champion explained.
"In FP2, we reverted to a similar set up as last week, with a few other adjustments, and the car felt much better. I probably won’t change much now because most often if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! So just tiny tweaks for me this evening. I still expect Red Bull to be ahead of us, but we’ll be trying to make the gap as small as possible tomorrow."
Another good day for Bottas as well, but both the Finn and Lewis are convinced about Red Bull's superiority for the weekend.
"Today was good fun - with the second week, every single margin in terms of cornering performance and driving performance becomes smaller so it’s about fine-tuning rather than finding big chunks of time. I think we started OK in terms of how the car feels, much better than last week, so hopefully we can build from that," said Bottas.
"It’s practice so you never what programs other teams are running - no doubt the Red Bulls are still strong and they are gaining on the straight which has been a bit of a weakness for us but we’ll find out tomorrow when everybody turns their engine up.
"The softer tyre compounds make a big difference, it feels like the tyres are holding on better in the long-runs and I think the temperatures will be quite variable over the weekend so let’s see what effect that has on the tyres. Max was a bit out of reach last weekend but it’s a new week, we’ve learned a lot, I like to think we’re closer but no doubt they’ll still be very quick."