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Valtteri Bottas: “I have a lot better feeling than a couple of weeks ago, that’s for sure”

Valtteri Bottas says there is plenty more to come from the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team as the Finn began the French Grand Prix weekend by finishing inside the top two in both Friday practice sessions.

The Finn endured a nightmare Azerbaijan Grand Prix two weeks ago, with Bottas failing to score points on what was a very under par and lacklustre weekend around the Baku City Circuit.

But it appears Bottas has returned to form this weekend at the Circuit Paul Ricard as he topped the morning session before taking second place to Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen in the afternoon, with the gap at the top just 0.008 seconds.

“I have a lot better feeling than a couple of weeks ago, that’s for sure,” said Bottas.  “We started the weekend on the front foot, everything felt OK and the car has been pretty fast so far.

“The balance is good, the tyres are working well, I’m confident with the car and I can trust the car – I think that’s the biggest difference from Baku.

Max Verstappen: “It’s been a good end to the day and we improved quite well”

Max Verstappen felt Red Bull Racing improved the feeling of his RB16 throughout the day at the Circuit Paul Ricard on Friday, and they were rewarded by the Dutchman topping the timesheets in the afternoon.

The championship leader had finished behind the two Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers in the morning session, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton showing that the German marque appeared to be back on the pace after difficult weekends in Monaco and Azerbaijan.

But Verstappen ensured he ended the day on top with a lap of 1:32.872 on the soft Pirelli tyre to edge out Bottas in the afternoon and give Red Bull confidence of a strong weekend around a track Mercedes have been unbeaten on since it returned to the Formula 1 calendar.

“I think overall it’s been a good end to the day and we improved quite well,” said Verstappen.  “I wasn’t entirely happy in FP1 and even at the start of FP2 but on the second set of tyres this afternoon the car felt a lot better and a lot more connected.

“It’s still really difficult around here as the track is so open and it’s quite windy which means it isn’t always easy to nail the lap. The wind is also quite gusty so one lap it feels alright and the next lap it can increase, which means it’s not always easy to judge your mid-corner speeds, but everyone has to deal with the same thing.

Juan Manuel Correa Re-joins Sauber Academy for 2021 Season

Juan Manuel Correa has re-joined the Sauber Academy for the rest of the 2021 season, with the young American coming back into the programme that guided his career prior to his horror crash in a FIA Formula 2 race at Spa-Francorchamps in 2019.

Correa is currently racing in FIA Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix, his first competitive action since the crash at Spa in 2019 that put his career on hold due to horrific leg injuries, with the accident also costing the life of Anthoine Hubert.

After intensive programme to get back to fitness, against all odds, Correa has made a dramatic return to racing in 2021 and has been brought back into the young driver programme that gave him a chance to test a Formula 1 car just weeks before the accident at Spa.

“It’s very special to be back with the Sauber Academy: they’re the junior programme of the team I was with in 2019, when I had my first and only F1 test, and it’s a great feeling to be working with them again,” said Correa.

“I am very excited to show the Academy’s branding on my car and my helmet already from this weekend in France and I am looking forward to helping the team whenever needed, be it in the sim or elsewhere.

Max Verstappen Edges Valtteri Bottas to Top Second Paul Ricard Practice

Max Verstappen showed that Red Bull Racing are in the hunt this weekend at the Circuit Paul Ricard as he displaced the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team duo to top second practice on Friday afternoon.

Valtteri Bottas had earlier topped the morning session in a Mercedes one-two ahead of Lewis Hamilton, but Verstappen took top spot in the afternoon’s running, albeit by just 0.008 seconds. The Dutchman did trigger a brief Virtual Safety Car midway through the session however, as he ran wide at the exit of turn two and left debris from his front wing on the circuit.

For a long time, Bottas looked as though he was heading to finishing top in both sessions, but a late run by the championship leader relegated him to second place, while Hamilton was two-tenths of a second back in third.

Ironically, Bottas’ best lap was set on the medium compound, and when he switched to the softs, he found good pace in sector one before fading in the final two sectors to set a slower lap than he had already achieved earlier in the session.  Verstappen, however, was able to find time on the soft compound to jump to the top of the time sheets. 

On the other side of the garage, however, Sergio Pérez was more than a second down on his team-mate and ended outside the top ten in twelfth.  The Mexican, the winner of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix two weeks ago, will need to find some pace if Red Bull are to fight at the front with both cars this weekend in France.

Vesti finds magic lap for Paul Ricard pole

From almost absolutely nowhere, Frederik Vesti plucked a stunning lap out of the bag to claim pole position in FIA Formula 3.

The Danish driver, part of the Mercedes F1 junior programme, didn’t set any purple sectors on his pole position lap but he was able to keep the tyres in good condition to piece together the whole lap for his second pole in the series.

He was the only driver to go below the 1:51 barrier in his ART as he beat Championship leader and practice pace-setter Dennis Hauger to top spot. The Norwegian won’t be unhappy with second however as he managed to set up his weekend well, just as he did for round one in Barcelona.

The second row of the grid for Sunday’s race will see home hero Victor Martins start from third for MP Motorsport who have found something since last season with Caio Collet fifth behind Trident’s Jack Doohan who couldn’t find an improvement on his final lap.

Clément Novalak, Doohan’s teammate, is another Frenchman on home tarmac this weekend and he qualified sixth ahead of Aleksandr Smolyar who already has a win to his name this season.

Bottas Opens Up French Grand Prix Weekend with Fastest Time in First Practice

The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team returned to the front of the pack in opening practice for the French Grand Prix on Friday, with Valtteri Bottas outpacing team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes have scored only six points across the past two races, with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix last time out seeing them fail to score a top ten finish for either driver.

But in an eventful first session at the Circuit Paul Ricard, Bottas took top spot with a best lap of 1:33.448, which was more than a third of second clear of his seven-time World Champion team-mate, while the current championship leader, Max Verstappen, was a further tenth back in third.

Bottas survived a moment at the exit of turn two, with the Finn running wide and damaging his front wing over kerbing.  He would not be the only driver to test the track limits at this turn, with Kimi Räikkönen and Pierre Gasly also having moments there.

Mick Schumacher spun within seconds of the session starting at turn three, with the Uralkali Haas F1 Team driver clipping the wall as he lost the car under braking, while Sebastian Vettel, fresh off his first podium finish with the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team in Azerbaijan, was another driver to suffer an off, this time at turn eleven.  Both drivers were able to get back to the pits and resume their sessions.

Championship Leader Hauger tops French practice

FIA Formula 3 returned to the track after a long month away with Dennis Hauger continuing his strong start to the year by topping the only practice session at Paul Ricard in France.

The Norwegian leads fellow PREMA teammate Olli Caldwell by just two points in the standings after a chaotic weekend in Barcelona but he doubled down on his impressive speed to go a quarter of a second faster than anyone.

Those nearest challengers were led by MP Motorsport’s Alpine junior Caio Collet who was in the top five throughout the session showing good speed at all stages of the 45 minutes. Even a brief red flag for Reshad De Gerus, who ended up in the wall at turn six, couldn’t deter the Brazilian who impressed as a rookie in Spain.

Jack Doohan was third fastest for Trident with Frederik Vesti fourth, both of whom were hoping for better results in Barcelona and are looking to rectify that this weekend.

Collet’s teammate Victor Martins was the best of the home-race drivers in fifth as the Frenchman races at his home Grand Prix for the first time.

Pair of Pauls lead SST Darwin practice, Weel first

Friday’s Boost Mobile Super Trucks practice at Hidden Valley Raceway was a good session for drivers named Paul. Paul Weel was the fastest ahead of Paul Morris and eight other drivers.

Weel has shown impressive pace to begin the 2021 season starting at Tasmania in April, where he led both practice and qualifying. At Darwin, he paced the ten with a fastest lap time of 1:35.03, over half a second faster than Morris’ 1:35.09. Weel’s fastest lap came on his fourth of six runs, while the points leader Morris did so on five of seven.

Greg Gartner was third ahead of Trav Milburn; both drivers are making their first starts of the season, with Milburn returning after last racing in 2018. Gartner (1:35.21) and Milburn (1:35.35) set their best times on their sixth circuits.

Nash Morris finished eighth in his return to a stadium truck after missing Tasmania due to injury. Craig Dontas was originally on the entry list as the driver of the #45, but Morris ultimately fills that spot in his #94. Russell Ingall, who was the interim driver for Morris at Tasmania, was fifth quickest in the session.

Rob Whyte and Shaun Richardson placed sixth and seventh, respectively; Whyte is back in SST for the first time since 2016. In ninth was Dave Casey, who battled brake issues throughout the session.