Formula One leader Nico Rosberg clocked the fastest lap yet around the scenic Red Bull Ring on Friday as world champions Mercedes dominated Austrian Grand Prix practice.
The German set a best time of one minute 07.373 seconds, 0.357 quicker than team mate and triple world champion Lewis Hamilton, in the morning and was again top in the afternoon with a 1:07.967.
On a day of variables with the weather swinging from bright sunshine to torrential rain and back again, and with waves of water rippling down the pit straight, Rosberg did not falter.
Hamilton, 24 points behind Rosberg with 13 races remaining, was second in both sessions.
“The new asphalt seems to be suiting our car quite well, maybe better even than the old,” said Rosberg, who will be chasing his sixth win in nine races on Sunday. “But tyre usage will be the decisive factor this weekend...”
Hamilton, who has finished second behind Rosberg in the last two years in Austria, said his day had been more tricky.
“It started coming together this morning but then the rain in the second session meant we had to adapt our programme,” said the Briton.
“Luckily the high track temperatures meant the circuit dried out very quickly so I was able to get more running on the ultra-soft tyre before the session finished and to get a feel for the balance and performance.”
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who is set for a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change, was third and fourth respectively after a big spin in the afternoon.
Fellow German Nico Hulkenberg was third in the second session for Mercedes-powered Force India.
Since Austria returned to the calendar in 2014, after an 11-year absence, Rosberg has been the only winner and Mercedes-engined cars have swept the podium.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, celebrating his 27th birthday, was fifth fastest.
Rosberg’s best lap, on the ultrasoft tyres, compared to the 2015 pole of 1:08.455 and the race lap record of 1:08.337 set by compatriot Michael Schumacher for Ferrari in 2003.
While Rosberg had a clean first session, Hamilton spun into the gravel and triggered the virtual safety car. Frenchman Romain Grosjean, in the Haas, spun off as he avoided the Mercedes.
The circuit’s revised kerbs caused problems for Red Bull’s Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who called them “unbelievable” and “dangerous” after riding over them and ending up in the gravel with a smashed suspension.
The new kerbs have been introduced to force drivers to respect the track limits.