F1: Verstappen and Hamilton verbally spar
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Lewis Hamilton endured a difficult first practice back after F1’s summer break as he nearly crashed on the track in the wet conditions at the Belgian Grand Prix. Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas came out on top despite the uncertainty around his future at the team.
Hamilton ended up with only the eighteenth fastest time as a result of having to take evasive action to avoid colliding with Nicholas Latifi.
The seven-time world champion was attempting to better Bottas’ time on his hot lap and overtake the Canadian on the last chicane near the end of the lap at Spa-Francorchamps.
However, the Williams driver appeared to not notice Hamilton’s attempted pass and moved to his left into the Englishman’s path.
Hamilton then managed to brake quickly enough to avert disaster, but his time suffered as he finished three seconds slower than his Finnish partner, having been ahead of his time before the would-be incident.
Bottas went onto the track in drier conditions than were afforded to his team-mate, and took advantage of that luck by posting a best-in-field time of 1 minute 45.199 seconds.
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Bottas’ W12 was using a different rear wing to Hamilton as Mercedes tried to discover which setup would allow them the greatest downforce for a weekend set to be dominated by rain and a track which requires a good balance of straight-line speed and tight cornering.
The 31-year-old’s time was even more impressive given the context of the performance. Mercedes are yet to announce whether it will be Bottas or George Russell alongside Hamilton next year.
First practice saw its fair share of caution from a number of teams as the slippery track made for tricky work.
Kimi Raikkonen was involved in a bizarre accident when the 41-year-old veteran somehow crashed into the pit wall on his left side. He was able to drive away from the wall but didn’t return to the track.
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The Alfa Romeo driver has already spun out of the La Source hairpin turn during his practice.
AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda made an almost identical mistake on the same turn just moments after Raikkonen.
Charles Leclerc also had a very near miss at the Rivage corner, where his car flew off the track but the Ferrari driver managed to keep his car on the gravel and away from the walls of the track.
Hamilton’s great title rival Max Verstappen finished behind Bottas in the practice, his time just 0.164 seconds slower than the leader.
The Red Bull driver trails Hamilton by just eight points in the Drivers’ Championship standings heading into the weekend as he searches for his maiden F1 title.
Despite his incident Charles Leclerc finished with the fourth fastest lap, with Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri in third place.
Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari completed the top five.
Second practice takes place on Friday afternoon, with the third session on Saturday morning before qualifying gets underway at 2pm BST on Saturday afternoon.
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