Triple-header, World Cup adds spice to French GP return

Esteban Ocon, Sahara Force India F1 Team

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton steered his Mercedes to the best time for both of Friday's dry practice sessions, as drivers got their first chance to run on Paul Ricard Circuit with Formula One returning to France after a 10-year absence.

The revamped Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet was a fixture on the F1 calendar until 1990, when four-time champion Alain Prost won the last race held there for Ferrari.

Championship leader Vettel was left in third, with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who started from pole in the last French Grand Prix 10 years ago, in sixth behind Red Bull duo Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Formula One is back in France for the first time since 2008. "But P3 I'm happy with because the vehicle should be good in the race".

Mercedes brought an upgraded power unit to Le Castellet and Hamilton, who has yet to win in France, has been consistently quick. "We have a good auto".

"Overall, it was a good session and now we need to carry on this performance through the weekend".

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Hamilton's lap was barely a tenth of a second quicker than teammate Valtteri Bottas, who briefly looked likely to claim pole position.

Denmark's Kevin Magnussen finished sixth for the Haas team, with Bottas seventh and Carlos Sainz eighth for Renault after losing two places three laps from the end when his auto lost power.

Charles Leclerc, 20, continued his impressive debut season by making the final shoot-out for the first time. His Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne was 18th.

Spain's double world champion Fernando Alonso, victor at the Le Mans 24 Hours with Toyota last weekend, was only 16th in the first session but improved to eighth in the second.

"That said, I have scored points in every single race I have finished, and hopefully tomorrow will be one of those Sundays".

New Zealander Brendon Hartley spun his Toro Rosso to set the tone before Frenchman Esteban Ocon spun his Force India and both Saubers followed suit.

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