SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) - Red Bull’s hopes for a triumph on its home circuit were dampened Friday as Mercedes regained its dominance in Formula One, clearly setting the pace on the opening day of practice for the Austrian Grand Prix.
With Daniel Ricciardo’s maiden victory in Canada two weeks ago, Red Bull ended a six-race winning streak by Mercedes but the Australian driver and his teammate Sebastian Vettel did not come close to matching their rival’s speed on the Red Bull Ring.
Lewis Hamilton beat teammate Nico Rosberg to the fastest time in the second practice. Hamilton completed his best lap on the 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) track in 1 minute, 9.542 seconds, topping Rosberg by 0.377. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was almost a second off the lead in third.
Vettel came sixth, more than 1.4 seconds behind Hamilton, while Ricciardo posted the eighth fastest time.
Mercedes also came 1-2 in the opening practice, with Rosberg beating Hamilton by 0.140.
“It’s so close between the two of us,” Rosberg said about the fight with Hamilton for pole position. “I’m hoping we will still have the edge on everybody else. That seems to be the case today.”
However, Hamilton said he wouldn’t mind if Rosberg started in front of him on Sunday.
“Hunting definitely brings out the better side,” the 2008 F1 champion said. “When you are in front, you feel vulnerable and any mistake you make you are going to be caught.”
In the morning session, Ricciardo and Vettel came only 13th and 15th respectively.
“We clearly did better in the afternoon,” Vettel said. “We are not there where we want to be when it comes to speed … but it will be warmer on Saturday and Sunday and I think that will bring us closer.”
In the first session, Vettel brought his car back to the garage undamaged following a spectacular incident in the final turn. He came off the track and spun twice on the grass before the car came to a standstill on the track again.
“That wasn’t planned of course,” the four-time champion said. “I went too wide and the wet grass was slippery.”
Ricciardo also spun on the same spot shortly afterward, prompting team boss Christian Horner to joke “they were just warming up the crowd.”
“We are trying to find out the limit, and both just came on the grass,” said Horner, adding the track was still lacking grip during the first session. “There was also a little bit of rain in the air. Thankfully everything is fine.”
Rosberg quit his first practice after 19 laps with a minor problem to his hybrid engine, enabling his technicians to fix the problem in time for the afternoon’s session.
The German, however, couldn’t keep up with Hamilton this time and didn’t hide his anger as he was unaware over engine tests his team was applying on his car toward the end of the second session.
“I was suddenly losing power and asked over the radio what was happening,” Rosberg said. “Only then they told me they had changed my engine settings.”
Rosberg leads Hamilton in the drivers’ standings by 140-118 points going into Sunday’s race, the first GP in Austria since 2003.
Most of the 22 drivers knew the track only from computer simulation. Alonso is one of just four drivers who raced on the track before, alongside McLaren’s Jenson Button, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Williams’ Felipe Massa.
The track is one of the shortest on the F1 calendar and features fast straights and only nine turns. Weather conditions could become an issue in the race as strong winds in the second practice Friday caused several drivers problems, especially on the third and eighth turns.
The second session was considerably faster than the first as temperatures went up and teams were able to test their so-called supersoft tires, which helped cut lap times by approximately 0.6 seconds.
The third practice is scheduled for Saturday, followed by the qualifying.
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