ZANDVOORT, Netherlands (AP) — Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes broke down Friday during the second practice session for the Netherlands Grand Prix, while Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc set the fastest time ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr.
They were followed by Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who was a frustrating fifth in front of his passionate home fans.
Hamilton, who seeks a record-extending 100th F1 win, ended with only the 11th fastest time.
Early into the second practice, he complained he was losing power and his team told him to stop. The seven-time F1 champion climbed out of the car and then made sure it was completely switched off.
“It’s not the end of the world. It’s been a beautiful day in terms of weather, it’s been amazing to see the crowd,” Hamilton said. “So many people here, all the energy that the Dutch fans bring.”
The incident prompted cheers from the hordes of orange-clad Verstappen fans in the home crowd, who were perhaps glad to see his rival in a rare moment of struggle.
“It’s only natural, I’m competing against their driver,” Hamilton said. “I don’t take anything to heart.”
A red flag came out as Hamilton’s car was hauled off.
The hour-long session was suspended again with 25 minutes left when Haas driver Nikita Mazepin spun off into gravel.
This frustrated Verstappen, who was unable to find any rhythm.
“It’s insane, just can’t get a lap,” he told his team on the radio.
There is a third and final practice Saturday ahead of qualifying in the afternoon, when Verstappen will look for a seventh pole position of the season. He trails the championship leader Hamilton by three points in a thrilling season so far, though he leads him 6-3 for poles and 6-4 for wins.
Verstappen once led by 33 points — same as his car number — but fell behind after crashing out of the British GP and falling back at the Hungarian GP after being bumped off track on Lap 1.
Verstappen won the rain-marred Belgian GP last Sunday to close the gap on Hamilton, who is chasing an eighth F1 title to move one ahead of Michael Schumacher and stand alone among F1 greats.
Earlier Friday, Hamilton upstaged Verstappen in the first practice. He was .097 ahead of him and .1 clear of Sainz.
That session was interrupted after just 20 minutes when Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel had engine failure. The four-time F1 champion grabbed a fire extinguisher as smoke billowed from the back of his car.
It took a long time to get his car off the track and there was no more action.
The race returned to the country for the first time since 1985.
In the morning, legions of orange-clad Dutch fans packed on trains as they came to cheer on their countryman Verstappen.
The sleepy resort town of 17,000 inhabitants burst to life as locals hung checkered flags from their windows on the road that leads from the train station to the circuit.
About 65,000 fans packed into stands that were at 67% capacity because of coronavirus restrictions. All had to show a corona pass to get in.
Their bright orange shirts gleaming against a clear blue sky it made for a glorious late summer feel, while others stood on sand dunes that looked over the venue.
“It’s been a good day,” Verstappen said. “It was really enjoyable to see everyone in orange having fun in the grandstands.”
But not everyone was in an upbeat mood, and 10 protesting farmers in tractors parked on a road next to the track a couple of hours before practice started. Environmentalists have made legal challenges to the event, with a judge dismissing a request to halt the race just days before the event.
The undulating 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) circuit is located just outside of Amsterdam. Rising and falling through dunes, it is fast flowing with high banked turns of up 18 degrees offering plenty of chances for overtaking.
“The track is epic, it’s really fantastic. I knew it was great when I was in Formula Three, but it’s crazy in Formula One,” Hamilton said. “The speed we’re going in Turn 3, wow. It’s a real racing circuit.”
Three greats finished on the podium here 36 years ago, as the late Niki Lauda won ahead of Alain Prost and the late Ayrton Senna.
Zandvoort first hosted an F1 race in 1952.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Zandvoort contributed to this report.
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