Despite his claims that Mercedes were on the back foot going into this weekends opening race in Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton topped both of the practice sessions. In FP1, the five times champion was three hundredths off a second faster than his expected title rival Sebastian Vettel. While he was four hundredths faster than teammate Valtteri Bottas in FP2.
Mercedes are the biggest surprise from today’s practice sessions, we know that the team were going to be in the front group but we didn’t think given their normal Friday plan for them to be leading it. Mercedes have been strong here before but on street circuits, they have been weaker. So, this is a mystery.
Hamilton said, “I have a positive buzz from driving the car today – this is what I love doing. The car feels like it’s in a similar place to where it was in Barcelona, which is positive coming to a different track. We got through our programme really well, there were no issues on track.”
“There’s plenty of stuff that we can improve on, but this was not a bad start. What we have to do now is really study and analyse everything, as we always do on a Friday night.” If the sliver arrows have the edge over Ferrari that would become clear in FP3 and qualifying.
Melbourne is the type of street circuit in the latter part of last year where Mercedes were fighting with Ferrari, but also, we witnessed over the last two years that Mercedes have got the strategy wrong in the race. So it’s a question we will not answer after qualifying.
Bottas added “It was a solid day for the first day back in the office, but the times are not important on a Friday. We haven’t seen the full performance from any of the other teams. We have an idea of how much we can improve for qualifying, but we have no idea how much performance the other teams can still bring.”
I believe that Mercedes will be in that pole fight tomorrow, but the question is Ferrari quail modes v the Mercedes ones.
Mercedes stronger than claimed – Vettel
Sebastian Vettel believes that Mercedes is “much stronger than they claimed” following Friday’s practice for this weekends race. Following testing, it was expected that Ferrari held the advantage over the silver arrows.
Lewis Hamilton insisted Mercedes’ estimations of its deficit in testing were “not BS”. But Hamilton then swept both Friday practice sessions in Australia, going eight tenths faster than the quickest non-Mercedes entrant in FP2.
Speaking after Friday running, Vettel jokingly referred to pre-season claims of Mercedes’ struggles as “bullshit”, before adding that he was genuinely surprised by the German team’s performance.
He said “It was a bit of a surprise. I thought they looked really quick and I don’t know if it was just us struggling a bit today, or also others, but as a matter of fact, I think they were in a league of their own. Maybe everyone else was struggling and then we can turn it around, but yeah, they look certainly very strong and much stronger than they claimed before the weekend.”
Explaining why the gap increased in FP2, he said there was no clear reason why they have lost pace, and says he believes there’s a lot of lap time to be picked up once he regains confidence in the car.
“I can feel I have the car under me that I had in testing, but it doesn’t do the same things, it’s not doing exactly what I like here and there, and that’s why I’m lacking confidence,” he explained.
Ricciardo happy if to replicate seventh
Daniel Ricciardo says he would be happy if he could replicate his seventh place in FP2 in qualifying. The Australian had a minor issue which cost him track time, because of a seatbelt issue.
His best time, a 23.664, was just over a second off Lewis Hamilton’s fast time and seven hundredths off his teammate Nico Hulkenberg’s sixth. While he does believe more pace can be unlocked tomorrow, Ricciardo says the team didn’t come to Melbourne expecting to be much further up the grid, if at all.
He told reporters, “We were sixth and seventh today, so that’s pretty good. I don’t think we expect too much more. If we could stay there, that would be a pretty solid Saturday, but you never know, we could be quicker than we think [in qualifying].”
“I feel like I can still get a bit more out of it. There’s still a lot to learn with the car and still some ways to set it up and a few little tricks here and there. But then myself, I’ll just obviously try and be critical of myself and make sure I can do better.”
Ricciardo also noted that his first qualifying session for the team could be a tight session and a clean lap could be the difference between starting on the front two rows or the back of the top ten.
He said “It’s going to be quite close tomorrow. I feel like two tenths could make the difference with four places. Putting in a clean lap is going to be important.”
Inexperience caused the crash – Albon
Alex Albon has blamed inexperience and overheated tyres for his FP1 crash which brought out the red flag. The Toro Rosso driver spun at turn one early on in the session, breaking his front wing.
Speaking about what happened, Albon said that he was caught out as he started to push. He said “I was just building up my confidence, and was getting a little better. Then I was caught out by the spin at the end of that run. I think it was just a little bit of inexperience and the tyres were a little bit too hot.”
“Was a combination of the two. But nothing really too serious, and in the end run two in FP1 was quite good. Considering it was my first time here, I was quite happy with how it went. But that did mean going into FP2 a bit more steady and just building up the rhythm.”
Albon says it was a weird accident as he has never experienced that before. He explained “I just had to lift off my hand and abort the lap. Nothing too serious, but it took me by surprise. We’ll see now if we can give me a bit more clearance for my hands.”
Teams working to appoint a successor to Whiting
F1 teams and the FIA are to work together to appoint a successor to race director Charlie Whiting. Whiting died suddenly on Thursday following a pulmonary embolism, just three days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
His role was vital to the sport: as well as overseeing the FIA’s operation of all on-track sessions, Whiting would oversee the start of every race and had a key role in dealing with safety and technical matters. In his four decades in the sport, he became the most respected figure in motorsport.
The FIA announced that Michael Masi as the replacement race director, safety delegate and permanent starter for this weekend’s race. But, a new permeant successor has yet to be appointed.
Todt said “You can imagine that we were caught by surprise,” he said. “Now we are faced with this emergency situation for the weekend we are having one emergency plan, who we are sure will be able to deliver a good job, while working very closely with the Formula One teams.
“We have started to see what we are going to implement for the future. The future of the organisation of this F1 department is something we have touched on now for quite a while including with Charlie because we knew he would not be able to have the position forever, so we were working and thinking about a future plan
Kubica running compromised by damage
Robert Kubica says that his running in practice was compromised by minor damage and having to avoid the kerbs. However, his first full Friday since Abu Dhabi 2010 ended with his struggling Williams team was four seconds off the pace.
The Polish driver says he was struggling with the “overall grip” the opening session and even though it felt “better” in the second, he was hampered by what is believed to be minor floor damage.
“Unfortunately second practice was quite a lot of compromises with some damage. It wasn’t a great afternoon. This morning we struggled quite a lot with overall grip. It’s already difficult when it’s running smooth.”
He added: “We have to stay away from kerbs, so it is not easy. Especially when you are fighting to stay on track. But yeah, the positive thing is the afternoon felt better. Unfortunately, it was quite compromised with what is happening.”
It’s understood that the damage can be repaired for Saturday and Williams does not face a spares shortage, although Kubica said the team did not have “a lot of spares”.
Kubica says that the team only has “20%” of what they needed and they feel that the afternoon was slightly better and the temperature did help us a bit.
Not as bad as it looks – Williams
George Russell insists that the situation at Williams is not as bad as the lap times suggest. The British driver was nineteenth in FP2, over one and a half seconds off the overall pace, however, he remains optimistic about the potential of the package.
He said “It’s not perfect, but I wouldn’t say it was feeling as bad as the lap times look, really. If you told me before that we were going to be five seconds off or whatever I’d think the car would be a right handful.
“We’ve obviously got our improvements to come and fine-tuning to make, but I don’t think we’re a million miles from out optimum. Obviously, we didn’t have the best of days with lap times, stating the facts.” Russell accepts that the team was quite a long way off the pace.
But says that the team had made progress from last year and that driveability was better than last year. This should give the team a good base, mainly because the team has addressed one of the key issues that blighted the 2018 model.
Asked if he expected to get more out of the car come qualifying, he said: “We’re running at the same sort of level as everyone else really, we’ll have our normal sort of improvements come Saturday, the same as everybody else.
Pierre Gasly, Red Bull “What a great feeling to officially start the season!!???Productive first Friday with the team. Happy with the progress, trying to find few more tenths for tomorrow. First qualifying of the year coming! ???”
Max Verstappen “Pretty happy with our first day. The balance of the car is good, we did a lot of laps and our pace is fine. We will #KeepPushing to improve ?? #AusGP”
Nico Hulkenberg, “I felt comfortable straight away in the car, which is one of the most important things for a driver. Our long runs were good, but there is still a lot of data to analyse overnight before Qualifying tomorrow.”
George Russell, Williams “Solid day today. We’ve got a lot of work to do but we’re making progress every session. Let’s keep pushing! ?”
Lewis Hamilton “I really have a positive buzz from driving the car today. Driving around here, it’s such a great track and with these new cars, the flow is just… it’s beautiful”
qualifying session is one which we will see a close session, I think there is a real fight for the front row as Mercedes and Ferrari fighting each other. This is a real surprise as we went into the weekend expecting Ferrari to be slightly ahead but we don’t know what Mercedes can do when they turn it up.
Also, expect a close fight across the field, we expect apart from the gap between the top six and seventh, to be very very close and that can mean there will be a surprise or two as well as shockers. This session could be interrupted by red and yellow flags, that means being on track at the right time may be key.