LE CASTELLET, France — Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen led the second practice session for the Frenchon Friday.
Thedriver placed narrowly ahead of Valtteri Bottas and his teammate Lewis Hamilton at the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France.
After damaging a part of his front wing early in the afternoon session, Verstappen found the pace to finish only .008 ahead of Bottas and .253 clear of Hamilton, the defending F1 champion.
Two-time F1 championwas an impressive fourth for the French-owned Alpine team, which was formerly , while Charles Leclerc finished fifth for .
The top three were the same for both sessions, but in a different order.
Earlier in the day, Bottas overcame a poor start to top P1 from Hamilton and Verstappen. This came after some early trouble, when Bottas bounced over kerbs and appeared to damage the front wing on his car.
But he recovered to post the best lap ofminute, 33.45 seconds, putting him .335 ahead of Hamilton and .432 clear of Verstappen.
Soon after Bottas had his mishap, four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel lost control of the rear of hisand slid backward off the track into the crash barriers.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. slid off late in the session, just as Verstappen lost top spot on the leaderboard, while three other drivers also had trouble with grip and went off track.
There is a third practice on Saturday ahead of qualifying.
Verstappen leads the championship by four points ahead of Hamilton after six races of an exciting season so far.
Verstappen could have both extended and lost his lead at thetwo weeks ago. He was leading with Hamilton third when his tire blew near the end and he scored no points. That should have gifted Hamilton a sizable points advantage.
But when the race resumed with a two-lap sprint, the seven-time F1 champion inexplicably locked his brakes. Hamilton missed the first turn trying to overtake Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and went straight ahead, dropping from second place to 15th and scoring no points.
Red Bull have blamed Pirelli for the tire failure. “We just hope we won’t see any incidents again like we saw in Azerbaijan,” team principal Christian Horner said Friday.
Hamilton has disagreed with Red Bull’s view, saying the Italian tire manufacturer was not at fault on this occasion.