Spanish GP: Hamilton fastest ahead of Bottas in 2nd practice

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Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland steers his car during a practice session prior to the Formula One Grand Prix at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, Spain, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. (Bryn Lennon, Pool via AP)

MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — Mercedes again topped the leaderboard as Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest time ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas in second practice Friday for the Spanish Grand Prix.

The championship leader finished .287 ahead of Bottas, who had been quicker than Hamilton earlier in first practice. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen again looks the only driver capable of challenging the dominant Mercedes and he placed third in both sessions, closing the time gap slightly in the afternoon.

Verstappen has leapfrogged Bottas into second place in the standings after winning last Sunday’s race at Silverstone with a commanding drive. Verstappen sealed a ninth career win, helped by Mercedes struggling with its tires amid surprisingly high heat in England.

The track temperature was higher in the afternoon sun of Spain and, after about 30 minutes of the second session, the tires on the Mercedes started to show some signs of wear.

It was an encouraging afternoon for the improving Renault team, with Daniel Ricciardo clocking the fourth-fastest time, but Ferrari slipped back.

Charles Leclerc dropped from fourth in P1 to sixth, while the struggling Sebastian Vettel went from fifth to a disappointing 12th.

Sergio Pérez was seventh in P1 and eighth in P2 for Racing Point after recovering from the coronavirus and testing negative. The virus forced the Mexican to miss the last two races in England after he contracted it last month. Following the Hungarian GP on July 19 Pérez flew by private plane to Mexico, where he visited his mother in hospital after she had an accident.

Mexico has the world’s third-highest total of deaths from COVID-19 — more than 55,000 as of Friday — with only Brazil and the United States recording more.

Pérez defended his decision to fly home.

“I haven’t done anything different to the rest of the paddock. So I was just the unlucky one to get it,” Pérez said. “That’s one thing. But I’m not willing to take any blame for that because anyone can get it.”

Governing body FIA cleared him on Thursday to return to the paddock.

“I’m very happy to be back, to finally be rid of the virus and be back with my team. It’s been tough,” Pérez said. “I couldn’t leave the room, so I was basically on lockdown for 10 days.”

Pérez, who was briefly replaced by veteran German driver Nico Hulkenberg, felt well enough to keep exercising.

“I was actually training in the apartment where I was,” Perez said. “I was extremely lucky not to have any big symptoms other than a little bit of headache, and one or two days I felt very tired.”

No other F1 drivers have tested positive after the first five races of the season.

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