‘New Cars, New Rules, New Drivers’ we started off the week saying. However, so far from practice it is the same old story, Lewis Hamilton topped both of Fridays sessions at the Australian Grand Prix.
Mercedes throw the gauntlet
Lewis Hamilton threw the gauntlet down as he set the fastest time in first and second practice. During testing, Mercedes did not really show their real potential, but looking at the gaps to Red Bull it appears to be way behind on lap times.
WE have seen the team managers and the drivers play down expectations of where they are. They said that Ferrari was ahead of them on track and Red Bull was not far behind them either. But we all took that with as buffing off the pace.
Hamilton said “It’s feeling great out there and the guys have done a fantastic job. We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tyres performed really well today too.”
If Hamilton gets pole he has only converted five poles into two victories at Albert Park.
Valtteri Bottas will be happy with his first outing for Mercedes, he matched Hamilton on track in the top three in both sessions. but he has also been a bit cautious with was the team is saying “From my side, I definitely feel like I can make a step forward tomorrow.
“It’ll be a busy evening for us tonight looking through all the data to see where we can improve but it’s a reasonable start. In terms of our pace, it is only practice, so tomorrow we’ll find out exactly where we are.”
Red Bull was not a surprise as on our mock grid reviled in the mock grid we thought they would be further ahead. However, their strategy in FP1 was using the slower tyres which are where they lost a few tenths but even on the ultra they were a down on Mercedes by a second in both sessions.
This could be masking and we know Max Verstappen’s afternoon was cut short after he went off damaging the floor. In FP2, Verstappen wasn’t far off Ricciardo either.
Both, as Red Bull say are evenly matched and Christian Horner said in February “We’ve probably got absolutely the most exciting driver pairing on the grid. It’s so exciting to see the development and evolution of Max Verstappen, just as he’s growing in experience and confidence and age at the heady age of 19 this year.”
“And Danny Ricciardo for me was the driver of the year last year. He put in some phenomenal performances, right at the top of his game.”
Ricciardo said “I think we can be there as well. Pole might be a stretch but I think we can be in that next little group with the right set-up and the right lap in quali”
“this morning I felt a big chunk of grip but I was expecting low twenties. There is still time to improve tomorrow.”
Ferrari looked strong in winter testing but appear not to be where we believed they would be. You had to be wary of Ferrari yes based on pace, but also this pattern which has emerged in recent years.
Ferrari has a strong winter test which may have got the hope up, but in ‘race weekend trim’ they don’t appear to be there on pace. There is that hope that Ferrari was ‘sandbagging’ there real pace but we will see in qualifying tomorrow.
Kimi Raikkonen seems ok saying “We can be pleased, because overall the day didn’t go badly. We learned a lot of things and now we know in which areas we have to improve.”
“As for performance, you cannot compare it to winter testing, partly because this is a bit of an unusual track and doesn’t produce a clear picture of the situation.”
McLaren much improved
There will be a lot of pressure on McLaren following a shambolic testing where they struggled to get decent running on track. But they did have a good day (for 2017), but they are not the McLaren we had ten years ago.
FP1 was trouble free which was a good achievement, with Fernando Alonso fourteenth but almost three seconds off the pace, but Stoffel Vandoorne in last.
Alonso started FP2 in bits after issues in between sessions but he got back out on track. But, after a week where the McLaren / Honda partnership appeared to be at breaking point, publicly they appear civil.
Racing director Eric Boullier said, “Today was really about evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of a number of new parts, which we achieved in the first session.”
“For FP2, we started to make more meaningful adjustments to the cars’ set-up, and concluded the day with some long runs.”
The midfield group of Force India, Toro Rosso, Williams, Haas, Renault all appear to be close on track. Toro Rosso in FP2 topped the group but there is a big gap to the front runner’s, almost a second and a half.
But, we know Melbourne is a bit unpredictable. This group will be looking at getting into the mix and will affect the race, I do expect we will see accidents and incidents in this group. If anyone is looking to cause an upset, it’ll say Sergio Perez because I believe he can get the most out of the car.
Jolyon Palmer went off in FP2 hitting the wall and bringing the red flag out. He comes into turn fourteen which is about 90kph through fifteen. then as he gets to the middle of the final corner it appears that he lost the rear spinning into the barrier.
He said “We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing. I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data.”
I think that Lewis Hamilton may have the advantage over the rest of the field. He has been in fine form throughout the week, reading what he has said he seems to be the title-winning Lewis again. Valtteri Bottas we know was able to get a lot out of the Williams, so it will be interesting to see what he can do in the Mercedes.
Red Bull will I think to edge out the Ferrari’s with, I would like to think Daniel Ricciardo, but my gut feeling it will be Max Verstappen ahead of Ricciardo.