Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheet in his Ferrari after second practice at the Red Bull Ring yesterday, with Hamilton down in fifth after running wide during his first run on fresh supersoft tyres and ending up over half a second adrift.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate and main title rival Nico Rosberg had the beating of the Brit over both sessions – finishing fastest in the morning before being pipped by Vettel later in the day when his fellow German posted a time of one minute 09.600 seconds – just 0.011 quicker than Rosberg.
With the sister Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen a competitive third in both sessions there is a viable threat to Mercedes’ dominance, but Hamilton will not be worrying about it.
“We always take it very seriously,” he said when asked about the threat of Ferrari. “The team are probably more focused on it than I am. Strategies are not my job, I just go and drive and drive the socks off the car.
“Today I was pushing and just learning along the way. If you don’t make any mistakes then you’re not trying.
“I don’t know how our pace is compared to others, but the Ferraris looked quite quick. I think it’s a bit closer here this weekend. It should be good tomorrow.
“The car has been great and it’s just that the track doesn’t have a lot of grip. We improved the car for sure. The tyres were pretty much the same.”
Rosberg was also impressed by the pace in the Ferrari but believes the short lap around the circuit in Spielberg has the effect of bunching up the field.
“On this track everybody’s always a bit closer and they seemed quick today,” he said.
“They [Ferrari] were good in qualifying and on the long run they were even closer, but in general everyone’s closer here. I locked up a bit in turn three and lost some time there.
“We’re always a bit worried about Ferrari as they’re our closest rival, and naturally they’re closer here because it’s a very short track.”
Despite setting the pace in free practice two, Vettel did not enjoy a completely positive day – he was last in the morning after losing drive and his afternoon running was cut short after gearbox issues.
Pastor Maldonado also managed to set a quicker time than reigning champion Hamilton to finish fourth while Nico Hulkenberg was sixth for Force India, with Romain Grosjean’s Lotus seventh and Max Verstappen eighth for Toro Rosso.
Felipe Nasr put his Sauber ninth and the second Force India of Sergio Perez rounded out the top ten.
Daniil Kvyat was 12th for Red Bull, with the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz beating him to 11th and the sister car of Daniel Ricciardo down in 17th. Ricciardo will take a ten-place grid penalty tomorrow having changed his engine, whilst the McLaren of Fernando Alonso has been hit with a 20-place drop due to the number of components he has changed.
The Spaniard was sporting a new nose on his McLaren, as well as a number of aerodynamic improvements, and he was four-tenths of a second faster than team-mate Jenson Button – who was running the old specification – but both were still 16th and 18th respectively as their running was again cut short.