Lewis Hamilton topped the times in both of Friday’s practice sessions for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Mercedes lead the way
Mercedes are looking as if lately since Montreal that the momentum is beginning to swing more and more towards them this season. The gap between them and Ferrari was close but we are expecting that on track, but we are seeing the gap close.
In FP1, Hamilton was almost half a second ahead of Vettel which had prompted speculation that Mercedes are beginning to bring upgrades which have the performance to see them pull away from Ferrari. In FP2, Vettel did narrow that gap to Hamilton to barely a tenth.
Another theory is that this clampdown by the FIA on burning oil as fuel has meant that Ferrari has lost out in performance terms to the Mercedes.
Hamilton said “It was a smooth day generally. For the first time, we started off with a good baseline. Usually, we’re not so great initially and then we have to build up from it, so [I’m] happy. We got pretty much everything we needed done. The long runs were so-so. I think it’ll be fine for the race.”
Bottas added, “There’s been a couple of Fridays that we’ve started the weekend with not a well-balanced car at all, and now at least it is more or less there, definitely much better in practice two.”
“I still struggled myself to put a good lap together but the car definitely has a lot of pace. And if we can fine-tune everything, we can be really strong tomorrow.”
Sebastian Vettel says that Mercedes will be the favourites this weekend, but the gap will be closer. Mercedes have been dominating here since the Red Bull Ring returned to the calendar in 2014, but Vettel was a tenth off the pace in FP2.
Vettel expects Ferrari to be closer to the front this weekend but still believes Mercedes to hold an advantage.
“Positioning was not too bad but the gap was too big. I didn’t feel as confident and comfortable as we should have but Sunday was OK. Generally, Sundays have been OK. For here, I haven’t seen much yet but it looks close.”
“It’s a short track so you imagine it’ll be close. Mercedes is the favourite. They seem very quick, whenever they went out today. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Williams has brought an aggressive upgrade package for this weekend which has included a revised sidepods and front wings, plus new bargeboards. But these are appearing as they have taken the car backwards.
These bargeboards were only used in FP1 as the team doesn’t have enough spares and wanted to minimise the risk of damaging them in the afternoon. Massa and Lance Stroll were eleventh and fifteenth running the new parts in the morning and fourteenth and sixteenth in the afternoon.
Massa said “We’re struggling with the balance in the high speed, so there’s a lot to try to understand to make the car more competitive for tomorrow. So I really hope we can do it.”
Regarding the update, he said: “At least the engineers said it should be OK, the numbers and everything.
“We just took it off in the afternoon just to not damage it – and we had damage in the morning actually! We’ll put it back tomorrow, and we should run with the new pieces.”
Stroll added “For sure we don’t look as competitive as in Baku, for example. But that can change. Around here it’s such a short lap, a couple of tenths gets you quite a few places. We need to look into it, for sure high speed is not our strength.”
There will be some speculation the threat from Ferrari has been weakened by the changing their floor. There has been a video online showing the floor fluttering at speed. There were other suggestions that the rear of the floor was also bending at high speed.
Some believed this behaviour is aimed at trying to seal the floor, in a bid to perhaps create a ground effect to help improve the car’s performance in high-speed corners. This would create an airflow barrier to create downforce-generating parts further back on the car.
McLaren was the surprise of the day because they were running in the top ten in both of the practice sessions, and they had no reliability issues. We know Honda have brought an upgrade this weekend and it appears to be delivering for McLaren.
Alonso said “Our day was not too bad. We eventually completed our programme, despite missing a little bit of track time in both sessions – this afternoon, I hit a kerb and slightly damaged the floor, so we had to change it.
“However, we were able to collect some valuable information, which we’ll now go through in detail.”
Vandoorne added “I think it’s been a reasonably good Friday for us as a team. We’re competing in a very, very close midfield – I think one second covered around 10 cars in FP2 this afternoon – so it will all come down to details tomorrow if we’re to have a good result in qualifying.”
Mercedes appear as if they have the advantage this weekend their upgrades are giving what we expected. We will most likely see that gap increase when they turn the wick up on Saturday. This will probably see the Red Bull’s fighting with Ferrari’s.