MAX VERSTAPPEN set the pace in practice for the French GP – with Valtteri Bottas breathing down his neck.
The Red Bull man, who leads the drivers' championship from Lewis Hamilton, was just 0.008 seconds quicker than under-fire Bottas.
Disgruntled Hamilton was third having swapped chassis with Bottas and admitted he was struggling at the Paul Ricard Circuit.
He said: "It was quite a struggle this week for everyone.
"Maybe it was because the inflated tyres, which are higher than ever before and we are all sliding around.
"I am looking at every option and we have made lots of changes and done a lot of analysis but we won't know if that works until we go out in P3."
Bottas, who has Hamilton's chassis from Baku, added: "It is hard to say it is chassis or the track but there is a lot better feeling than two weeks ago.
"We have started on the right foot and I feel pretty comfortable.
"The balance is good and the tyres are working well.
"I am confident with the car and I can trust it as well. It is going to be close.
"We were expecting Red Bull to be strong. I am sure they have much more to come and so do we."
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Meanwhile, Merc boss Toto Wolff played down the suggestion that Hamilton and Bottas's performance has swapped as a result of the chassis change.
He said: "We swap parts around all the time and it is part of our planning.
"It is good to get the feedback but we have a spare chassis, which is a new one, we can always use that."
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