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Leclerc tops Dutch GP practice as Hamilton breaks down

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was quickest in practice for the Dutch Grand Prix on Friday as championship leader Lewis Hamilton endured a frustrating afternoon. 

The seven-time world champion produced the fastest lap in a truncated morning session but lasted just three laps in the afternoon before his Mercedes ground to a halt with an engine problem on the Zandvoort circuit. 

“Lewis reported a loss of power and was told to stop the car,” Mercedes tweeted. 

Hamilton’s halt and subsequent return to the pits was greeted with cheers by the Dutch crowd, rooting for homeboy Max Verstappen who was fifth fastest.

After his half-points victory in the rain-reduced Belgian GP last weekend, the Red Bull driver is just three points behind Hamilton in the championship standings.

Leclerc clocked the fastest time of 1:10.902, which was 0.154 quicker than Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz in second.

Alpine also had a good day as Esteban Ocon produced the third best time and Fernando Alonso the sixth. 

Sandwiched between them were the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen’s Red Bull with Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri), Lando Norris (McLaren), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) and Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin). Hamilton was eleventh.

The afternoon provided some comfort for Vettel whose car came to a stop at the exit of the pit lane in the morning session, leaving a trail of oil behind it. 

Vettel took a fire extinguisher from a marshall to put out a small fire but the car could not be touched as it was still electrically alive.

There was a lengthy delay before the car was covered in rubber sheets and then removed by the Aston Martin team. 

That meant the hour-long session lost almost 40 minutes which limited the opportunities to stretch the cars fully on a challenging track that returns to the Grand Prix calendar for the first time since 1985.

The drivers face a final practice on Saturday morning followed by qualifying in the afternoon.

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