PORTIMAO, Portugal — Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas was fastest in an eventful second practice session Friday for the F1 Portuguese Grand Prix , with French driver Pierre Gasly’s car catching fire midway through and a crash involving Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll.
Bottas was 0.6 seconds quicker than Red Bull’s Verstappen and 0.8 ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fourth best, and championship leader Lewis Hamilton struggled for tire grip and was only eighth fastest, a considerable 1.37 seconds behind his teammate Bottas.
Gasly parked his car on the side of the track when it suddenly caught fire. He scampered out unharmed and rode back to the AlphaTauri team garage on the back of a scooter as track marshals quickly put out the billowing flames. The session was suspended for about 15 minutes while a crane removed the car.
Soon after it restarted, the red flag came back out again following a crash between Verstappen and Stroll’s Racing Point car.
The drivers do not get on, and Verstappen was unhappy when Stroll would not let him pass on a straight.
Because he did not, Verstappen then dived into Turn 1 to gain position on him, but Stroll, who is back this weekend after testing positive for COVID-19 and missing the race two weeks ago, moved slightly right at the same time, and Verstappen ended up crashing into the side of his car.
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Stroll’s car flew off into the gravel and was removed by crane, while Verstappen was able to continue. Both drivers were unharmed and summoned before the race stewards, who decided neither driver was at fault and took no action.
There was a near miss right at the beginning of second practice, too, when Kevin Magnussen nearly hit the McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr.
Hamilton, meanwhile, struggled for grip during a tricky session on a new circuit. He comfortably leads the championship and his victory two weeks ago at the Eifel GP in Germany tied Michael Schumacher’s F1 record of 91 wins.
There were mask-wearing fans scattered around the 4.6-kilometer (3-mile) circuit in Portimao, which is undulating with frequent elevation changes. Overtaking is difficult.
It was used for preseason testing in 2008 but never before held an F1 race. It is the second new one on the coronavirus-hit calendar after the Tuscan GP in Mugello last month.
In the first practice earlier Friday, Bottas was 0.34 seconds faster than Hamilton and 0.78 ahead of Verstappen.
Both he and Leclerc had problems with grip, with Leclerc going off track and into some gravel. The car was undamaged and he finished with the fourth-best time.
Portugal last hosted a race in 1996, when three F1 champions made the podium after Jacques Villeneuve won ahead of Damon Hill and Schumacher.