Lewis Hamilton topped the times in both of Friday’s practice sessions ahead of this weekends Austrian Grand Prix. In both sessions, he was a tenth faster than his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Mercedes upgrades deliver
Since we started coming back to the Red Bull Ring has been a good hunting ground for Mercedes, we have said since last weekend that all three races in this triple header favour Mercedes. The circuit also looks to suit the driving styles of both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
The advantage over Sebastian Vettel was around half a tenth, the Ferrari as we know set that time in FP2 on the ultras, where has the Mercedes were on the slower soft tyres. But we cannot read fully into the performance as we know Ferrari don’t show the full potential of the car on Friday.
But looking at what happened last week in France and Barcelona, you need to say on these types of circuits the power of Mercedes and the new minor aero upgrade they have seems to give them the edge over Ferrari.
Speaking about to ESPN, Hamilton said “I hope it’s a significant difference this weekend and I hope that it helps us. I’m excited because when you bolt something to the car, we haven’t really bolted anything to the car this year. It’s one of the first real serious upgrades.”
“It’s great when you get out there because you feel those couple of points [of downforce] straight away, in a certain corner, you feel those improvements so I’m looking forward to experiencing it tomorrow and will try and figure out where those improvements are on the circuit.”
Bottas added “it’s a decent upgrade that was very much needed like any small gain this year and I’m looking forward to trying it out. Even last week, with the engine, it was positive but now between Ferrari and us the margins are very, very small.”
Verstappen struggles wit damage
Max Verstappen took part in practice with a “cut” floor, following problems with his Red Bull in FP1. The Dutchman wouldn’t elaborate on the nature of the damage to the floor, but says it was not a result of the raised kerbs that caused problems for several drivers in the opening Red Bull Ring sessions.
“I don’t think it was a perfect day, we had a damaged floor. Something broke off the inside of the floor, so my second practice session I had to run with a floor that was a little bit cut, let’s say it like that.”
“It’s not from the outside sausage kerb, it’s from the inside, I guess it was just vibrations of whatever. It was anyway an old floor. We’ll put on a new one tomorrow, but today we had to be a bit limited on that, so that definitely compromised the downforce of my car a bit.”
Red Bull was slightly further behind the top two, which was expected, Verstappen says that the car was “lose quite a bit of time on the straights” with its Renault engine it was also struggling to find a handling balance.
He added “I’m also not happy with that yet, so we need to work on it. Just not the balance we wanted, chasing a bit the balance. We never really found the sweet spot yet, so work to do tonight. I don’t think it’s the tyres, it’s the car balance we were not happy with.
Drivers fear Mario Kart overtaking from DRS
Sebastian Vettel has questioned the decision to add extra DRS zone for this weekends race. The Red Bull Ring has three DRS zones on the shortest lap of the season, in response to the lack of overtaking the FIA has been experimenting with adding third zones.
However, the Ferrari driver is concerned three DRS zones could go too far in the other direction. He told ESPN “I don’t know if it is a solution to put in [extra] DRS zones. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people that maybe like the idea of Mario Kart, including myself, I played it when I was young, but then again I think it shouldn’t get artificial. We will see how it works out.”
“Maybe it helps with overtaking and so on, but if you end up driving past another car it isn’t very exciting either. There is more tension and more excitement if the car is behind”
Hamilton added that he believes that adding extra DRS zones were only temporary measures to increase overtaking before new regulations in 2019, which should allow cars to follow more closely.
He added “We’re trying to make the best with what we have. I think the way they’ve got it set up, you can get DRS in one zone, you can overtake, and then the other guy can get DRS in the next part. So it could be good maybe. It’s not particularly the easiest of tracks to follow on, so it will be interesting.”
“Important” to give answers Gasly
Pierre Gasly says it is “important” that this weekends race gives “answers” on how potent the Honda power unit really is following the upgrade in Canada.
The Japanese manufacturer upgraded the combustion for Montréal which is believed to be worth 27bhp, but it suffered reliability problems in both Canada and France.
Gasly was forced to revert to an old engine after final practice in Canada, while teammate Brendon Hartley suffered what is understood to be an unrelated failure during Friday practice in France.
Gasly told Motorsport.com, “Clearly this weekend is important for us to have answers about the performance from the new engine itself, just to make sure it’s as good as we expected.”
“We have also small upgrades on the chassis, which should be quite decent and a good step forward as well, so we should have the strongest car of our season so far. Hopefully, we’re going to increase the performance and be able to close a bit on the top 10.”
Red Bull stick with old MGU-K
Red Bull has confirmed that they have stuck with Renault’s old specification of MGU-K, despite three of the Renault powered cars switching to the new spec.
The French manufacturer has switched its works cars and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne to the new power unit as they were scheduled to move onto their second PU of the year, so none of the three will incur any grid penalties for using it.
While Red Bull and Fernando Alonso chose not to move to the new spec, for now anyway, because they would receive grid penalties if they take an extra MGU-K. Renault’s F1 Managing director Cyril Abiteboul told Autosport the part would be available to all three Renault-powered teams but said “not all teams have elected to go to the new spec”.
Abiteboul added that the new unit has “better performance, better packaging and [comes] with a better reliability level”.
Hulkenberg played down the significance of the change but revealed that the new unit has saved some weight. He added “We don’t expect a huge deal from it. It’s not going to make us a second a lap quicker or something.”
Both Renaults and McLarens have moved to there second energy store, with Sainz having a new turbo and Alonso has a new control electronics. None of those changes will trigger a penalty, but in each case the driver is on the bubble with that particular element
Mercedes once again look in a very strong position going into qualifying tomorrow, this circuit we all know favours Mercedes speed and downforce. However, there were very tight gaps at the front, that poses the question can Mercedes make a jump when they fit the race engines and what performance does it give.