Lewis Hamilton breathed fresh hope into his faltering championship challenge by finishing fastest in second practice for the Austrian Grand Prix.
Hamilton led a surprise Mercedes one-two at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring, with Max Verstappen third, and two tenths adrift.
Fresh from dominating the Styrian GP at the same venue last weekend, Verstappen sent alarm bells ringing at Mercedes when he put his Red Bull at the top of the order in the opening running on Friday.
The Dutchman was almost three tenths faster than anyone else, while Hamilton, who is 18 points adrift in his quest for a record-breaking eighth title, finished only seventh, half-a-second back.
But following the two-and-a-half-hour lunch break, Hamilton, and his Mercedes team, emerged an outfit reinvigorated.
The seven-time world champion lapped the 2.69-mile course 0.189 seconds clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Verstappen was 0.217 sec adrift.
Rain, which is forecast to impact Sunday’s race, started to fall with 25 minutes remaining, and there was a hairy moment for Hamilton when the light drizzle caught him out at turn four.
The Mercedes driver was unable to slow down for the right hander, running straight on and across the gravel.
But the 36-year-old escaped any serious damage by gingerly making his way through the sand before heading back to his garage.
While practice times must be treated with caution, Friday’s second session will provide a timely boost to Hamilton, who last won at the Spanish Grand Prix on May 9 and has seen Verstappen triumph in three of the last four races.
The conditions on Friday, some 10 degrees cooler than last week, appear to be suiting Mercedes who can be found wanting in more extreme temperatures.
Behind the top three, Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel finished fourth and fifth respectively for Aston Martin with rookie Yuki Tsunoda sixth in his AlphaTauri.
British driver Lando Norris finished ninth and spun in the closing stages. The McLaren driver got on the throttle too early on the exit of turn one, sending him on to the grass on the opposite side of the circuit.
“What damage do you have,” Norris’ race engineer, Will Joseph asked.
“Talent,” came the reply from the driver who is fifth in the standings following an impressive opening eight races where he has scored at every round.