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Hamilton: Spa Friday practice one of Mercedes’ strongest in 2017

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Lewis Hamilton feels Mercedes has made one of its strongest starts to a Formula 1 race weekend this season after outpacing Ferrari through second practice for the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday.

Hamilton turned in the fastest lap of the day at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, finishing two-tenths of a second clear of the field in FP2.

Mercedes has been tipped to pull clear of chief rival Ferrari at Spa given the high-speed nature of the circuit and the strengths of its W08 car, and the billing seemed justified given Hamilton’s post-session comments.

“Today felt like one of our strongest Fridays so far this season. The car felt strong all-around straight out of the box,” Hamilton said.

“We made some good steps wih the setup right from the start of FP1, which is a really encouraging way to kick off the weekend.

“It looks tight at the top on the long-run pace, but we’ve started the weekend in the best way possible.”

In the sister Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas had a less fruitful day as he finished sixth in FP1 and third in FP2, the Finn feeling he has ground to make up heading into the remainder of the weekend.

“Overall it was a tricky day. We had some trouble setting up the car, but in the end it was getting better, we made quite big steps,” Bottas said.

“It was not feeling too comfortable in the beginning, but it was getting better in the end. The performance of our car, in general, is looking good.

“However, there is still a lot of margin to optimise the car. The long runs in the end were interrupted by the rain, but that was obviously the same for everyone.

“I’m glad that we at least got a few laps in with high fuel.”

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.