Mercedes clawed back some much-needed pace at the Red Bull Ring with Lewis Hamilton leading a one-two in Friday practice at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Hamilton, the seven-time Formula 1 world champion, made up for lost ground after losing out to Red Bull's Max Verstappen in last week's Syrian Grand Prix at the same circuit, and topped the session with a 1:04.523, 0.189 seconds ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Championship leader Verstappen, whose team are racing on their home circuit, finished the day 0.217 seconds off the pace of the Mercedes and third quickest.
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Earlier in the day, Verstappen had set the pace topping first practice as Lewis Hamilton finished down in seventh. Mercedes' single lap pace looked to be quicker than the Red Bulls, however in the afternoon's race simulations with heavier fuel loads, Red Bull retained the advantage, while Hamilton made a mistake and slid into the gravel.
Hamilton told reporters: "They've definitely got something extra in their bag, I already know that. But I think we've made some small progress today. I think they still have the two tenths or maybe it's a tenth and a half. We've definitely made some small steps forward but not enough.
"I just expect them to turn up [the engine] a little bit more tomorrow," he added. "But we'll be pushing, trying to make that gap as small as possible."
The 23-year-old Dutchman leads Hamilton in the drivers' championship by 18 points with four consecutive wins from eight races - the first time they have done that since 2013 when they won their fourth world championship. The team are in with a strong chance of extending his lead as Red Bull are known to perform well at Spielberg’s high-altitude circuit in high temperatures with three wins in the previous four years.
Verstappen told reporters after the session: "I felt good in the car, we just need to make sure we have a bit more pace on the soft [tyre] because on the medium we look good and also on the long runs we look decent. I think it will be tight. They [Mercedes] definitely have improved a bit," he added.
Pirelli have brought a new tyre compound which was tested in first practice by a number of drivers including Charles Leclerc, and is said to have a stronger construction following the high-speed failures at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix when Verstappen and Lance Stroll suffered identical tyre failure. Pirelli have also brought a softer compound of tyre after drivers had trouble in last week's Syrian Grand Prix over finding more pace on the medium sets.
The Aston Martin duo of Stroll and Sebastian Vettel finished the day in fourth and fifth, followed by Red Bull's second team Alpha Tauri with Yuki Tsnonda and Pierre Gasly in sixth and seventh, while Red Bull's Sergio Perez trailed in 11th.
Chinese test driver Guanyu Zhou made his debut test in a Formula 1 car in the first practice session in Fernando Alonso's Alpine. The Spaniard finished the day eighth ahead of McLaren's Lando Norris.
Final practice begins at 11:00 BST (12:00 CET) on Saturday, with qualifying from 14:00 BST (15:00 CET).
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