French Grand Prix: Valtteri Bottas tops times before storm halts final practice; Brendon Hartley to start at back of grid

Le Castellet, France: Valtteri Bottas topped the times to maintain Mercedes supremacy when the third and final practice for the French Grand Prix was severely curtailed by a heavy rainstorm on Saturday.

The Finn clocked a best lap of the tricky Le Castellet circuit in one minute and 33.666 in the opening eight minutes before rain swept across the track.

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas steers his car during practice at the French GP. AP

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas steers his car during practice at the French GP. AP

That was enough to lift him 1.2 seconds clear of Carlos Sainz of Renault and well ahead of highly-rated Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc of Sauber and

Fernando Alonso, who was fourth for McLaren.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari was fifth ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne in the second McLaren and Frenchman Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso.

Defending four-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who trails Vettel by a single point, was 12th, but did not attempt to clock a meaningful lap time. Hamilton was fastest in both sessions on Friday.

The rain relented with nine minutes remaining to allow a number of drivers to venture out and test the conditions with ‘wet’ tyres, but it had little relevance to the outcome.

After several days of heat-wave conditions, heavy thunderstorms are forecast to continue on Sunday when the first French Grand Prix for a decade, and first at Le Castellet’s ‘Paul Ricard’ circuit in 28 years, is scheduled to start.

Brendon Hartley will start Sunday's French Grand Prix from the back of the grid after being handed a 35-place penalty on Saturday for taking a range of new engine parts.

The under-pressure New Zealander had to stop his Honda-powered Toro Rosso car in the closing minutes of Friday’s second free practice session.

Honda on Saturday confirmed it fitted a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, turbocharger, MGU-K, control electronics and energy store to his car, taking Hartley beyond his permitted limit.

Swede Marcus Ericsson was also back in the fray after the scrutineers passed his replacement Sauber car as safe to run following his fiery crash on Friday.

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Updated Date: Jun 23, 2018 18:42 PM

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