Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes on top in practice for the Austrian Grand Prix before he was afforded a glimpse of the hostile reception that awaits him when he steps into the lion’s den tomorrow.
Hamilton edged out his team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.189 seconds at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring, with his Championship rival Max Verstappen third and two tenths adrift.
But moments after he posted his fastest time, Hamilton made a mistake.
In the light drizzle the seven-time world champion carried too much speed through the right-handed Turn 4 and headed straight for the gravel. A ripple of cheers rang around the 2.68-mile arena as the Mercedes driver gingerly made his way through the sand before returning to the sanctuary of his garage.
Verstappen, who holds an 18-point lead over Hamilton, sent alarm bells ringing when he finished fastest in the opening running.
The 23-year-old was almost three tenths quicker than anyone else, while Hamilton was only seventh, half a second back.
But following a two-and-a-half-hour break in action, Hamilton and his Mercedes team emerged an outfit reinvigorated to lead the way and provide a timely boost to their star driver, who last won at the Spanish Grand Prix on May 9.
“I am generally happy with where the car is and I am not going to change too much,” said Hamilton.
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, in my opinion. Sometimes we try to eke out more and it gets worse, so if I make any changes overnight they will be the tiniest of tweaks.
“But Red Bull have got some extra in their bag, I know that.”