Bottas on top, Hamilton second, sick Stroll absent

Nürburgring (Germany) (AFP) –


Valtteri Bottas topped the times ahead of championship leader and Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Saturday morning’s belated and sole practice session ahead of Sunday’s Eifel Grand Prix.

The Finn maintained the momentum from his victory in Russia two weeks ago as he clocked a best lap in one minute and 26.225 seconds to outpace the six-time champion by a tenth of a second.

After both Friday sessions were cancelled due to fog and rain that prevented the use of the circuit medical helicopter, there was relief when on-track action began albeit with the notable absence of Racing Point’s Lance Stroll, due to an unspecified illness.

The team confirmed that Stroll was unwell and unable to take part, adding that a decision on their plans for qualifying later Saturday would be reviewed after practice.

It was not made clear if Stroll had tested positive for Covid-19.

His team-mate Sergio Perez was quarantined for two weeks after returning from Mexico and testing positive for the coronavirus ahead of the British Grand Prix in July.

German driver Nico Hulkenberg, who was drafted in at short notice to substitute for Perez at Silverstone, arrived during the session and, subject to passing a Covid-19 test, was clearly set to replace Stroll if required.

The Mercedes team were hit this week by two positive test results in their travelling race team, resulting in six of the team going into isolation. Six replacement staff were flown to Germany to replace them on Thursday.

Conditions at the Nurburgring remained cool with an air temperature of only eight degrees and a track temperature of 14 as the teams began a major 'catch up' process on F1's first return to the track since 2013.

Both Mercedes cars were fitted with new engines for a session in which the teams concentrated on gathering data in the difficult conditions, working specifically on tyre performance.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari was third fastest, as the Italian team showed improved form in the cold weather, with Max Verstappen fourth for Red Bull and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel fifth after a troubled session in the second Ferrari.

Lando Norris, racing this weekend along with McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz in self-designed helmets that mark World Mental Health Day, was sixth ahead of Perez, Daniel Ricciardo of Renault, Alex Albon in the second Red Bull and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri.

The sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), announced early on Saturday that they were introducing new medical evacuation procedures as a contingency plan in case thick fog returned to prevent the helicopter flying.

In the plan, a circuit ambulance would drive three kilometres to a newly-created landing area at a lower altitude if there were any casualties to be transferred to hospital.