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Associated Press Photo

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the first free practice at the Silverstone racetrack, in Silverstone, England, Friday, July 12, 2019. The British Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

SILVERSTONE, England (AP) — Lewis Hamilton was spending Friday night figuring out how to get his Mercedes in a better position to challenge in qualifying as he pursues a record sixth British Grand Prix win.

The Formula One leader was outpaced by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in both practice sessions. After finishing fourth in the timesheets in the morning Hamilton did post the second fastest time in the afternoon, 0.069 seconds behind Bottas.

“It’s been quite windy, quite gusty out there, so it hasn’t been the easiest of days, but we were up there nonetheless, and it looks like we’ll be in the fight,” Hamilton said.

“I was struggling with the rear end and went off a few times, but Valtteri seemed much more comfortable in the car, so we are going to dig deep tonight trying to figure out what the issue is and how we can solve it for (Saturday’s qualifying).”

In front of his home fans, Hamilton looked well placed to beat Bottas before having to abort a lap.

“The asphalt is very smooth which makes it tricky to get the tires to work, they’re in and out of the window,” Hamilton said, “and the gusty winds didn’t make it easy.”

Hamilton holds a 31-point lead over second-placed Bottas in his F1 title defense after nine races, but the Finnish driver felt far more confident on Friday.

“I’ve had a good day from the get-go, both in terms of my own performance and the set-up of the car,” Bottas said. “It’s always a nice feeling when you start a weekend like that. The track is less bumpy than last year which is nice. They did a good job on the asphalt and it was very enjoyable to drive.

“The new surface is quite grippy, but sometimes you can lose the grip very suddenly on new tarmac. The car seems quite well-balanced.”

There could be a strong challenge from the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, who were behind both Mercedes drivers in the second practice.

“They confirmed that they are the team to beat this weekend,” Leclerc said.

Leclerc was two tenths of a second off Bottas, and Vettel was less than a second adrift.

“We struggled quite a lot with the front tires during the race runs, a bit less on the quali(fying) runs,” Leclerc said, “but I still think that there is quite a little bit of pace to find from on our side.”

Max Verstappen, who won the last race in Austria, said practice was one of his “worst” of the season after being seventh fastest in his Red Bull.

“I just didn’t have a good balance on the car,” he said. “It was sliding around a lot and not comfortable. So we still have got a bit of work to do.”

It was a better day for Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly, who topped the timesheets in the first practice before dropping to fifth in the afternoon.

“It was clearly the best Friday of the season, mainly happy to see that all the changes we did since Austria worked out pretty well so it’s only Friday, we won’t get too excited but yeah, for sure, it’s positive.”

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