F1 Austrian Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton tops Friday practice in bid to return to winning ways

Hamilton renewed his battle with team-mate Nico Rosberg while Fernando Alonso showed signs of improvement in his Ferrari

Lewis Hamilton's maiden visit to the Red Bull Ring culminated with the Briton emerging top dog in practice on Friday.

Situated in the Styrian mountains, the circuit - owned by billionaire energy drinks magnate Dietrich Mateschitz - is an old-school track complemented by modern-day facilities following a £60million revamp.

The circuit itself, last used in F1 in 2003, has remained unaltered since that visit 11 years ago, much to the delight of the drivers.

At just a fraction over two miles it is the third shortest circuit on the current calendar behind Monaco and Interlagos in Brazil, but provides the fastest lap.

Coming into this weekend half the field had sampled the circuit via one form or another, be it in F1 many years ago, a junior formula or a track day.

Hamilton, however, conceded a fortnight ago his knowledge of the circuit was such he did not even know the direction of turn one.

But come the conclusion to the two 90-minute sessions it was the 29-year-old who led the way with a time of one minute 09.542secs, just 1.2secs slower than Michael Schumacher's race lap record set in 2003.

With the fastest of Pirelli's four compound tyres - the supersofts - strapped on to the Mercedes, Hamilton finished 0.377secs faster than team-mate Nico Rosberg as the duo resumed their battle for this season's Formula One world title.

After retiring a fortnight ago in Canada, Hamilton is again in need of a run of victories to close the 22-point gap that has now opened up between himself and Rosberg, who has not been out of the top two all season after seven races.

The pair were the only two drivers to dip under 70 seconds over the course of the undulating lap that incorporates just nine corners.

As in the first practice session, when Rosberg edged Hamilton on the soft-compound rubber, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was again third best but only just from Williams duo Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa.

Reigning four-times champion Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, winner last time out in Canada to end Mercedes' dominant start to the campaign of six successive victories, were sixth and eighth quickest on the timesheet.

In FP1, Vettel was fortunate to avoid a smash into a barrier on the opposite side of the pit wall.

Coming out of the final corner, Vettel caught the grass and twice spun through 360 degrees, avoiding the barrier by inches, with his car remarkably ending up back on the circuit and pointing in the right direction,

Vettel and Ricciardo sandwiched McLaren's Jenson Button, who finished 1.271secs down in a car boasting a number of upgrades this weekend, with his own team-mate in Kevin Magnussen ninth.

Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne was again 10th, as in FP1, with Kimi Raikkonen seemingly struggling again in his Ferrari as the Finn was down in 11th, almost a second and a half back.

Marussia's Max Chilton was in 18th, ahead of not only team-mate Jules Bianchi, but also the Lotus of Romain Grosjean, with the young Briton 2.687secs off the pace.

Throughout session two in particular, virtually every driver ran wide at the turn eight right-hander, which is to result in a warning from race director Charlie Whiting.

Given drivers could be penalised throughout the race for exceeding track limits, a timing screen message in FP2 confirmed Whiting is to "inform the drivers of the future policy" with regard to turn eight.

PA

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