Racing with a new engine on Friday, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest time in both practice sessions for the Turkish Grand Prix.
The championship leader led the first session ahead of title rival Max Verstappen and the second from Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who drove impressively in both.
“The (engine) changes were OK,” Hamilton said. “I’m not sure it felt as good in the second session.”
Hamilton is F1's record holder with 101 pole positions and he needs a strong performance in Saturday's qualifying to limit the damage from a 10-place grid penalty for an engine change.
“I need to be on pole to limit the loss," said Hamilton, who trails Verstappen 7-3 for poles this season.
Even if Hamilton gets pole No. 102, he'll start 11th and will be battling through traffic. The Alpine of two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari of ultra-quick Leclerc and the McLarens of the wily Daniel Ricciardo and highly talented Lando Norris could be tricky to pass.
“They (Ferrari) are going to be hard to pass, as are (Alpine) and McLaren,” Hamilton said.
He would know.
Hamilton was brilliantly held up for 20 laps by Norris at the Austrian GP in July and superbly blocked by Alonso at the Hungarian GP in August when his teammate Esteban Ocon won a dramatic race.
“They (Alpine) seem to be improving more and more," Hamilton said.
A record-extending 101st career F1 win for Hamilton looks unlikely, then, unless circumstances go his way.
When Hamilton came into the garage 10 minutes into the second run, it was because of a lack of grip on his front tires.
Once the issue was sorted the Mercedes star topped the leaderboard midway through P2. He finished it .17 seconds ahead of Leclerc and .41 ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen, who lacked his usual speed and finished fifth behind his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, said the team needed to sort out different things before the final practice and qualifying.
“It looks like we have a lot to go through this evening because today wasn’t the best of days," the Dutchman said. “We’re still looking around for improvements as we don’t have a lot of data on these cars for this track.”
Although conditions were dry at Istanbul Park, veteran Kimi Raikkonen got his feet wet when his drinks bottle leaked onto his boots. The Finn did not live up to his nickname “The Iceman,” using a string of expletives to describe the effects as he berated Alfa Romeo's mechanics.
Earlier, Hamilton placed .43 ahead of Verstappen and .48 clear of Leclerc, with Bottas fourth.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by two points with seven races to go including this one.
But that lead could well be lost on Sunday. Hamilton's grid penalty is for going over his allocation of three engines for the season. Mercedes fitted a fourth combustion engine on Friday.
“Lewis is taking a penalty on Sunday but we have to focus on ourselves,” said Verstappen, who has 17 wins and 11 poles. "Hopefully we can make improvements before qualifying.”
The track proved much more reliable than last year, when it had just been re-laid to host an F1 race for the first time since 2011 and was too slippery.
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