Mercedes Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas topped a practice session each ahead of the Italian Grand Prix.
Mercedes have upper hand
Mercedes still appear as if they are the team to beat this weekend as they still have the upper hand over Ferrari. Monza we know over the past few years have been very strong and have topped every session since the hybrid era in 2014.
Last weekend we expected that Mercedes would have managed to pull away from Ferrari in race and qualifying trim. Yes, they took pole and victory in Spa, but Ferrari kept them honest. In FP1, yes Mercedes had over a second over Ferrari, in FP2 that came down to .084 between Hamilton (P2) and Vettel (P3).
Hamilton said “It’s been a good day, a clean day. We got the running done, we got through our programme with no problems. The car seems nicely balanced here. We just have some work to do to eke out a little bit more performance. It looks quite close between us and the Ferraris, so I anticipate it’s going to be similar to the last race in that sense.”
Bottas said “First of all it was nice that it stayed dry today because all the forecasts said that the rain could affect the running and we could have limited running before qualifying and the race in the dry. But we got our full plan done.”
“Initially in FP1 we went slightly in the wrong direction with the setup, but we managed to change it around for FP2 and the car felt a lot better. Overall, it was a positive day, the car is looking strong, but obviously it’s the next two days that count.”
Ferrari not far away
Sebastian Vettel was not far off the pace of Mercedes in second practice and he says that he is confident that Ferrari is capable of making those improvements to challenge for the win this weekend. Having lagged behind Mercedes by a full second in opening practice, Vettel closed to within just 0.140s of Valtteri Bottas’ session-leading time in FP2.
Vettel says “Friday you always do what you think is best. Sometimes you show more or sometimes you show less. There are a couple of things we need to do better, car balance, stability, braking, which is important round here to get the confidence.”
“Because you are low downforce you need to have the confidence to just throw the car there. We are not yet where I think we can be but I think we should be a bit better tomorrow.”
Monza is a circuit which you need a combination of speed and downforce, these are traditionally the strength of Mercedes. But, I think Ferrari wants to fight Mercedes on home turf and they have a real possibility if Mercedes don’t pull away.
Like last weekend Monza will be a tough race for Red Bull because the Renault power unit doesn’t have the same power as the Mercedes and Ferrari. We sound like a broken record, they are stuck in their own fight.
The FIA has confirmed that both Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will take penalties’ which will see them start towards the back of the grid. They were a second if not more off the pace in FP2, this power issue really shows at Monza.
But, while they look to be heading backwards after qualifying I think that they will be on the back foot as Merced turn the wick up. They know that midfield group is tight and they will want to stay ahead of it, but it may be difficult.
Daniel Ricciardo said “We were pretty competitive in those conditions today. We’ll make some minor adjustments tonight but generally, the car feels quite good here. If it’s wet tomorrow we’ll probably try everything and see if we have a chance for a pole position. If it’s dry we’ll have to assess further, because even if I’m pole position I’ll probably start at the back.”
Max Verstappen said “We are more or less where we expected to be with the car today. It is hard for us on this track with the long straights which we have to combine with a very low downforce setting so we just try to make the best of it.”
McLaren surprise form
We were all expecting that McLaren is going to struggle this weekend as Monza is a circuit which requires high downforce and engine power.
McLaren doesn’t as we know don’t have the power from the Honda engine, and with Singapore expected to play to their strengths, they need to change Fernando Alonso’s Power unit to the one he will use in Singapore.
We saw Alonso be the car which pulled along his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, which they will use in qualifying to try and allow the Belgian to get a good grid spot. I think Alonso knows (as a ‘team’ player) he needs to help Vandoorne, and he said he will repay the favour
Alonso said “Today has been a very positive day, with a good feeling in both sessions. We did find some performance here, which was a little bit unexpected because coming to such an unfavourable circuit for us we weren’t hoping much, but we have both cars in the top ten 10 and this is very good.”
Vandoorne said “It’s been a bit of a surprising Friday for us as a team. To be inside the top 10 with both cars has been a very positive start to the weekend, especially on a track like Monza where we know the engine deficit plays a very big role.”
“I think it’s been a very positive Friday, but, as we can see, the lap-times are very close behind us, so we need to keep working – to keep fighting for every tenth, hundredth, thousandth we can find – because it’s easy to lose a lot of places here.”
Mercedes power key for Williams / Force India
Both Force India’s and Williams are in a battle of themselves as both teams run Mercedes power. They were slightly further back than I expected. In FP1, It was both Force India’s ahead with Sergio Perez P7 and Esteban Ocon P8, while the Williams of Felipe Massa was P10 and Lance Stroll P13.
In FP2, Esteban Ocon was P9 and Massa P10 it was thousandths between them like it was between Sergio Perez P14 and Stroll.
Massa said “It was a much better Friday than we’ve had in the last few races, so I’m really optimistic that the car can be more competitive here in Monza compared with how it was in the last races. So I really hope everything comes together to have a much better weekend.”
Stroll “It looks much better this weekend than in the past events. I had a good day on my side, but spun on my good lap in FP2, which was a bit frustrating, and I didn’t get to put my lap time on the board with the supersofts. However, everything is feeling good and hopefully, we will say the same tomorrow”
Perez “It’s been a busy day and I feel quite happy heading into the weekend. We collected some important information to help us set the car up for tomorrow. I wasn’t as happy with the car balance during the afternoon session.”
Ocon “I think we came away with some very good data at the end of the day. I am pretty happy with how things went and the work we completed.”
“There was a lot of track evolution as the day progressed: the main straight, in particular, has been resurfaced and the practice starts felt a bit slippery.”
Tomorrow is qualifying will once again be a close fight between Ferrari and Mercedes on paper. However, I think the Mercedes power will see them have the slight edge over Ferrari; they will be changing the car turning up settings to unleash the performance of their car.
McLaren maybe in slightly better form than we expected, but we know those penalties will see them move to the back of the grid. Red Bull will again be fighting against themselves.