Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas got a boost in their efforts to close the gap on Max Verstappen by finishing on top in second practice for the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg.
Aston Martin and AlphaTauri also had strong sessions, but Sergio Perez was only 11th and neither Ferrari driver was able to crack the top ten by the time FP2 came to a conclusion.
Teams continued to test Pirelli's new unmarked compounds, and steady light drizzle that picked up as the session wore on also made it harder than usual to form direct comparisons between the various drivers at different times.
With the possibility of rain in the air in the start, there was a rush for all 20 cars to get out on track when the lights at the end of pit lane went green for the second free practice session at the Red Bull Ring on Friday. Carlos Sainz was first out, and he was soon on the Ferrari team radio to confirm there were a few spots of rain on his visor as he prepared for his first flying lap. His engineer reassured him that it wasn't expected to develop into anything more significant.
It didn't take long for Max Verstappen to pick up the top spot once more with a lap of 1:05.773s on the new Pirelli test tyre, the Red Bull a tenth and a half ahead of AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda who had a similar advantage over Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen soon lowered his time by seven hundredths ensuring he kept ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who had made his debut in the timesheets in second place on the regular mediums.
Having sat out first practice in favour of Alpine reserve Guanyu Zhou, Fernando Alonso was the first driver to switch to the soft tyres which soon saw him up to fourth, albeit three tenths off the pace of Bottas who has eased ahead of Verstappen. Also making up for lost time was George Russell, who had been sidelined in favour of Roy Nissany in the morning.
Verstappen was soon back on top with a new best time of 1:05.239s on the mediums, while his team mate Sergio Perez moved up to second with a gap between them of 0.227s. Esteban Ocon had claimed third for Alpine ahead of Bottas, with Kimi Raikkonen in fifth and Antonio Giovinazzi in seventh making an Alfa Romeo sandwich of Hamilton. They were followed by Alonso, Russell and Pierre Gasly, with Tsunoda just outside the top ten followed by Charles Leclerc after a big scare for the Ferrari with a snap of oversteer of turn 9 that he was lucky to keep under control.
With Verstappen and Hamilton back in the pits, strong laps from Aston Martin saw Sebastian Vettel go second on the soft tyres ahead of Tsunoda and his own team mate Lance Stroll. Bottas took the opportunity to go back to the top with time of 1:04.712s, half a second clear of Verstappen. Stroll also moved forward into second, but both Gasly and Haas' Mick Schumacher had their latest improved lap times deleted for exceeding track limits.
The intermittent rain had now metastasised into a persistent light drizzle as
Hamilton and Verstappen returned to the fray on soft tyres, and the cooler conditions in general meant that for once it was the Mercedes with the upper hand. Hamilton went top ahead of Bottas with a time of 1:04.523s. Verstappen's effort was only good enough for third ahead of Stroll and Vettel, followed by the two AlphaTauris of Tsunoda and Gasly. After a subdued start for McLaren, Lando Norris had battled his way up to eighth ahead of Giovinazzi, but he was soon dropped a spot by Alonso's quickest run.
With a little over 20 minutes remaining and the drizzle continuing to be a distraction as the track became increasingly slippery, teams started to turn to longer distance runs. There was little further change to the timings despite everyone continuing to run on slick tyres, but turn 4 was starting to get particularly tricky and resulted in Hamilton locking up and running through the gravel with a little over ten minutes remaining.
With the FIA timing screens helpfully informing teams that the track was now slippery, Norris also had a half-spin at turn 1 that sent his skittering across the damp grass. Asked by his race engineer what damage he had sustained, the Briton replied dryly: "Talent!"