Hamilton recorded the quicker time during the first free practice sessions, and that combined with him setting his best afternoon time on his second flying lap after a scruffy first attempt suggests that Mercedes still holds the upper hand on raw pace.
However, Ferrari ordinarily keeps its cards close to its chest during practice before unleashing its true pace ahead of qualifying. If the Scuderia is running its usual easy-going Friday programme, it might have enough in reserve to overcome Mercedes in a close fight for pole position.
Practice day at the unusually summery English Silverstone circuit was messy for most, with drivers adjusting to the hot track temperatures and the partly resurfaced track.
The decades-old circuit, albeit incrementally reconfigured over the years, presented one new challenge this season, with the addition of a third drag reduction system zone on the front straight, unusually running through turns one and two.
The first two corners are taken flat in most cars, but with the DRS active cars generate substantially less downforce, making turn one in particular marginal for most.
Most of the midfield cars weren’t producing enough downforce to take the turn flat, so drivers were manually closing their DRS flaps in the braking zone before reopening them again on the exit.
Romain Grosjean, however, failed to deactivate his DRS in time, crashing his car during the morning practice session.
The Frenchman, who scored his first points of the season last weekend in Austria, collided with the outside barrier hard enough to damage his chassis, which couldn’t be repaired in time for him to take part in the afternoon session.
Max Verstappen also missed almost all the second session after he caused an early red flag on his first flying lap, losing control of his Red Bull Racing car and smacking into the outside barriers at the exit of turn seven.
The damage wasn’t heavy, but the front and rear left corners of the car made bore the brunt of the impact, raising the possibility of a gearbox damage that could incur a five-place grid penalty on Saturday.
When the track went green 10 minutes later drivers went about using the soft tyre – the grippiest compound of the weekend – Sebastian Vettel set his fastest lap of one minutes and 27.552 seconds. Hamilton was 0.187 seconds off the pace, with his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, a further two-tenths behind.
Kimi Raikkonen was fourth fastest for Ferrari but almost half a second slower than his teammate’s benchmark.
Daniel Ricciardo was fifth quickest and 0.856 seconds slower than Vettel in the sole Red Bull Racing car.
Fernando Alonso was sixth fastest for McLaren ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Force India teammates Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc.
Though most drivers flirted with the run-off areas in search of their fastest time, Gasly was the only other driver to retire from the session when his power unit failed with 35 minutes remaining on the clock. He parked his car at turn four, though he kept it sufficiently out of the way to allow the session to continue.
Honda confirmed later in the session that Gasly had been using a high-mileage power unit that was due to be taken out of his component pool at the end of the day, meaning the failure should have little impact on his weekend programme.