Verstappen currently leads Hamilton by 12 points in the drivers’ championship
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas has been handed a three-place grid penalty at the Styrian Grand Prix for spinning in the pit lane in practice.
He was leaving the pits on fresh hard tyres to start a race-simulation run, but lost his car and ended up broadside in front of the McLaren garage.
Race stewards decided Bottas had been guilty of “potentially dangerous driving as personnel were around”.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen topped in the session with Lewis Hamilton fourth.
Hamilton had set the fastest lap of the session at Austria’s Red Bull Ring by 0.077 seconds from Verstappen’s Red Bull but ran fractionally wide at the final corner and that time was deleted.
That left Hamilton behind McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.
Bottas’ incident is unprecedented and the McLaren sporting director Paul James complained to race director Michael Masi at the time, saying it was “absolutely ridiculous – he could have taken out our guys there”.
The stewards’ verdict said that Bottas had tried leaving the pits in second gear and “as a result, the wheel spin was much higher and the result unexpected. Therefore he didn’t manage to control the car properly into the fast lane.”
Both Mercedes drivers lost time with wheel spin when leaving the pits during the French Grand Prix last weekend. This was one of the contributory factors to Hamilton losing the lead to Verstappen at his pit stop.
The fastest times set by Hamilton and Verstappen in the session – albeit that the world champion’s was deleted – suggested the title contenders are set for another close weekend.
Hamilton’s off-track excursion gained him only a few hundredths of a second, and the two title rivals were quite closely matched on their race-simulation runs later in the session.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by 12 points after his victory in France last weekend.
“The second practice Lewis was faster,” the Dutchman said. “But his lap time got deleted so it looks a bit different than what is shown at the moment.
“Overall it has been quite good for us. Overall I’m quite happy with where the car is at the moment.”
Seven-time world champion Hamilton, who is looking for his first win since the Spanish Grand Prix in May, called Mercedes’ weekend “a work in progress.”
He added: “The track is awesome. I think we were a little bit down over a single lap but the car felt relatively solid. Losing on the straight a considerable amount and we just have to keep working to try to rectify that.
“The Red Bulls will be really hard to beat. I think they’ve just got the edge, maybe more. We don’t know what they’re going to do when they turn that engine up. I didn’t have too many big problems today. Happier with where we got the car to – I have been working all week trying to understand where I wanted to put the car and I’m hopeful the hard work will start paying off soon.”
Behind Hamilton, the second Alpine of Fernando Alonso was fifth, 0.037secs behind team-mate Ocon, followed by Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, McLaren’s Lando Norris, the second Aston Martin of Lance Stroll and the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
The session started under the threat of rain but although there were a few drops early on it stayed dry throughout.
Nicholas Latifi had a spin at Turn Six in his Williams, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz lost his car at Turn Four.
Hamilton and Verstappen also ran wide in the early slightly damp period of the session, Hamilton at Turn One and Verstappen at Turn Three.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly missed the entire session after a problem was found with his Honda power unit, which needed to be changed.
This is the first of two consecutive races at Austria’s Red Bull Ring.
The second event was needed following a calendar reshuffle when the Turkish Grand Prix, which had been added to the calendar to replace Canada, was dropped as a result of Turkey being added to the UK government’s red list of restricted countries.
Ironically, shortly before practice started in Austria on Friday it was announced that Turkey had been added to the calendar for the second time, this time in place of the Singapore Grand Prix on 1-3 October. Singapore was cancelled earlier this month as a result of travel restrictions there.