Lewis Hamilton topped both of Friday’s practice sessions ahead of this weekends Brazilian Grand Prix. Both Mercedes cars looked to have the advantage of both Ferrari and Red Bull on track.
Mercedes lead the way
Despite Lewis Hamilton wrapping up his fourth world title he has hit the ground running well, in FP1 he was a tenth faster than Valtteri Bottas. In FP2 Hamilton retained that advantage but the Finn closed that gap down to four-thousandths of a second.
Going into the weekend we know that Hamilton, despite the Paradise Papers scandal, said he wanted to carry his momentum forward as he feels backing off at the end of 2015 may have helped Nico Rosberg to build momentum.
However despite Mercedes not being challenge really, Hamilton says he is still expecting a close fight. The top five were split by just three-tenths of a second, but we know that when Mercedes has topped Friday sessions that they tend to go onto win the race.
Hamilton said “It’s been a good day. It was pretty exciting to come to the track with the cars being so much faster this year. We got through the long runs and the short runs.
“Unfortunately, the tyres don’t really last very long, so you only get one or two laps on the short runs. Overall, we got through what we needed to do. We’re in a decent position but I think it could be quite close.”
Bottas “Initially in Practice 1 we did some aero tests, looking at some things we can improve for next year. We now have some data to analyse from that.
“Otherwise, I think both the short runs and the long runs in both sessions looked positive for us as a team, so we have a good starting point for the weekend.”
Ferrari appeared as they are behind Red Bull this weekend, which to me is expected given the performance of Red Bull in Asia. This circuit is a short twisty circuit which doesn’t require the power that Red Bull lack from the Renault power unit compared to Ferrari.
After practice, Vettel says that he believes that Mercedes has the edge over Ferrari “I think overall it’s pretty straightforward: Mercedes seems to be the quickest and then it’s pretty close between Red Bull and us.”
“I think the track was in pretty good shape and I think car-wise we can fine tune the balance and that should help us get the pace up for qualifying and the race.”
Daniel Ricciardo says that he was encouraged by the work of Red Bull. We now know that in FP2 the team allowed the Australian to run the power unit in a more aggressive mode.
He said “This afternoon obviously on the super-softs we were able to run on a normal setting. It looked pretty good. Merc are really quick on high fuel.”
“We seem pretty close on low fuel but they’re quick on high fuel, so I think they’ll have a bit more on low fuel tomorrow. But relative to Ferrari, I think we had a pretty good day. I don’t think we are far off.”
Renault power woes at Toro Rosso
There is more concern after both Toro Rosso’s suffered power unit failures on their first runs in FP1. Going into the weekend both cars had new MGH-U’s fitted meaning a ten place grid penalty.
However, Pierre Glasy’s suffered a failure after a single flying lap and Brendon Hartley stopped on circuit with a turboshaft failure on the out lap of his first proper run. Gasly is now set to lose a further 15 places on the grid for a replacement MGU-H and turbo, while his team-mate’s penalty situation is currently not clear.
Renault’s F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul said “Toro Rosso has suffered in the last couple of events much more issues than other teams, and obviously when it’s happening, because of the regulations, and because of parts availability and production lead time, that’s causing issues.”
We do have a little bit of a concern about the way that our engine is operated in the Toro Rosso car, which may explain why we have had so many issues coming from Toro Rosso specifically.”
However, Toro Rosso’s team principal Franz Tost is convinced the team is not to blame. Saying “Everything is the same in the installation, nothing has been changed since the beginning of the year.”
“From Toro Rosso’s side, regarding the car, there’s no part from the chassis connected to the MGU-H that has caused anything. There’s nothing we can do, just see which parts we get, which power unit and so on.”
McLaren has had a decent start to this weekend they have been around the top ten. However in there media release after the session, they don’t appear to be happy because both cars struggled with driveability and finding the sweet spot on their car.
Fernando Alonso’s FP2 session was also interrupted because of an unspecified power unit problems, but McLaren soon resolved them and they got him back out.
Alonso said “Today was more difficult than we’d expected. We had some problems in the first session, then a PU pressure issue in the second session.”
“We lost some valuable track time, and in the end we didn’t manage to complete our programme. We tried to carry out the priority items on our run-plan, and we’re more or less happy with the outcome.”
Despite the FP2 problems, they did make a decent start to the weekend with both Alonso and Vandoorne in the top ten. This circuit should be favourable for McLaren as there aren’t many long straights and the second part of the lap is tight and twisty.
Qualifying is shaping up to be a battle between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. But we know that Mercedes will turn up the wick when they fit the race engines overnight, this circuit I think is one where Red Bull and Ferrari could be closer.
Mercedes I feel have pole in the bag and it is theirs to lose. However, we have a short lap here and that means that traffic could be a factor. Being on track at the right time will be important, but particularly during Q1 as drivers look for clean air.