Max Verstappen believes he can improve and challenge for pole position after clocking an outright lap record as Red Bull topped the times in Friday's practice for the German Grand Prix.
The young Dutchman recorded a best lap of one minute and 13.085 seconds to outpace Lewis Hamilton by 0.026 seconds with Valtteri Bottas third, in the second Mercedes. They were quickest ahead of championship leading Sebastian Vettel, who forecast a three-way scrap for pole, and his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
“It's usual that Mercedes and Ferrari go faster on Saturday, but we can still improve and so I hope we can be close. Let's see what happens,” said Verstappen.
On a sweltering afternoon at the Hockenheimring, with an air temperature of 31 degrees Celsius and the track at 50 degrees, most of the session was used for evaluating tyre performance. “The weather is amazing,” said Hamilton, a day after penning a new two-year deal with Mercedes.
“It's very hot, which makes it very demanding and physical in the car. It's quite a technical track even though it is a pretty short circuit. We've got through our programme and got all the information we needed from the tyres. The car was feeling good, but it is very close, so there's lots of work to do tonight. We've been working on our starts, making sure to get a better understanding of the tyres and tyre temperatures and trying to be as perfect as we can in that area.”
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Vettel and Ferrari appeared to be content with their performance as they were close to the pace of the leading cars and comfortably clear of sixth placed Romain Grosjean and his Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen, both powered by Ferrari.
Vettel said it all indicated a very close battle for pole. “Yeah, especially for one lap,” he said, of the relative speeds of the leading teams. “I haven't seen much of the Red Bulls on the long run, but one lap it definitely is. It seems very close. I think it will be crucial to have a solid day tomorrow (Saturday) and a good result. It always helps and that is what we will try to do.”
Vettel has never won at his 'home' Hockenheim circuit, which is only half an hour from his family home at Heppenheim, but hopes he can also improve. “We need to see what we find and how we were compared to others. I think we are still missing a little bit in terms of one-lap performance, I think we can improve,” he said.
Bottas said he felt relieved that the speculation over his place at Mercedes alongside Hamilton was now over. “It's always nice when it's official,” he said. “I think, honestly, that never in my career so far, I've known at this point already for next year so that's positive. I think it's really good that we can both, me and Lewis, focus on the rest of the year. I think it's going to be a tough battle between two or maybe three teams.”
Monegasque rising star Charles Leclerc, widely tipped to be a target for Ferrari next season, was eighth in his Ferrari-engined Sauber ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Renault and Esteban Ocon of Force India. Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who upstaged Hamilton by going fastest in the morning, finished 13th in the second Red Bull after focussing on race performance because he is due to start from the back of the grid due to penalties for taking new engine parts.
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