By Abhishek Takle
HOCKENHEIM, Germany (Reuters) – Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fastest in practice at the German Grand Prix on Friday, trading places with team mate Sebastian Vettel at the top of the timesheets, while Pierre Gasly crashed his Red Bull.
Leclerc was 0.124 seconds quicker than home hero Vettel in the afternoon session at a scorching Hockenheim, with a best lap of one minute 13.449 seconds.
Vettel had been fastest in the morning, with the Monegasque driver second.
“Pretty happy … a few hiccups here and there to find the rhythm,” said Vettel, who started on pole in last year’s race. “The car felt good, I think there’s quite a bit of margin to go faster.”
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, last year’s winner at a wet Hockenheim, was third in both sessions for Mercedes.
Gasly, who has struggled to match team mate Max Verstappen’s performances this season, smashed into the tyre wall at the final corner during the afternoon session. He was unhurt but the car was badly damaged.
“Fortunately, I wasn’t using my race engine or gearbox, but more importantly I’m really sorry for the boys in the garage and I want to apologise to them as the repairs will make for a long night,” the Frenchman said.
Hamilton, who leads team mate Valtteri Bottas by 39 points after winning seven of the 10 races so far, set his fastest time in the hotter second session on the same soft tyres as the Ferrari drivers.
Bottas ended the day in fourth after a morning trip into the gravel, half a second off his team mate’s pace.
“It’s not been the best of days in terms of the heat, but pretty straightforward otherwise,” said Hamilton.
“It’s all about trying to keep the tyres in the working range. They were always overheating, so that’s been the main issue today, but we’re all in the same boat.”
The Briton could take comfort in forecasts for thunder showers on Saturday and a high chance of rain come the race on Sunday, which could swing the performance pendulum back in favour of Mercedes.
Verstappen, fourth in the morning, ended the day fifth-fastest ahead of the Haas team’s Romain Grosjean, whose car had the same specification used for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Canadian Lance Stroll was seventh for Racing Point, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Nico Hulkenberg, who had to stop his Renault with what appeared to be an engine problem but later rejoined, was ninth in the second session. Mexican Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10 for Racing Point.
Track temperatures in the second session soared to 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), with ambient temperatures hovering around the mid-to-high 30s.
Hamilton had warned on Thursday that Mercedes, whose only defeat this season came at a sweltering Austrian Grand Prix last month, could again struggle in the heat, but team boss Toto Wolff played down that risk.
“The day’s ambient is a total outlier to tomorrow, and after tomorrow, so it’s very difficult to judge,” the Austrian told Sky Sports television.
“I think in terms of engine cooling we are in a good space … I think it’s more grip level.”
The German marque, the parent company of which is the title sponsor of this weekend’s race, is running its cars in a special livery to celebrate 125 years of motorsport involvement.
Sunday will also be its 200th Grand Prix start as a constructor.
Practice was interrupted by two red flags, with Kevin Magnussen stopping in the opening session before Gasly’s afternoon crash.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin and David Goodman)