Mercedes enjoyed a massive long-run pace advantage over Ferrari during Friday practice in Barcelona.
The Spanish GP is supposed to reset the pecking order, with all teams bringing major upgrades to the first European race of the season. Judging by early evidence, it seems the momentum has shifted towards Mercedes.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas recorded quick average times during FP2, outpacing Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by a second.
Hamilton’s average time over a long stint on soft tyres was 1m26.063s, while Bottas was six tenths slower with 1m26.686s.
Raikkonen, who was the only Ferrari runner to do a race simulation on Pirelli’s softest compound for Spain, recorded a 1m27.361s. However, one must note that Raikkonen’s stint was inconsistent, suggesting that there is more laptime in the SF17H.
Sebastian Vettel was only three tenths slower on average, despite running the much slower medium tyre. Moreover, Vettel’s average was skewed by two slow 1m29s during the middle part of his stint.
A 1m25.4s lap right in the dying stages of practice also indicated that there was more pace that could be eked out from the white-striped Pirelli rubber.
Red Bull, who would have hoped to close the gap to the top runners with their Barcelona upgrade, would be disappointed with how practice panned out.
Apart from finishing behind both Mercedes and Ferrari in the classifications, there was also significantly slower over long runs.
On a relatively short stint on soft tyres, Ricciardo recorded an average time of 1m27.181s. However, on the medium tyres the Australian could best manage a 1m28.096, nearly half a second slower than Vettel’s average on the same compound.
Verstappen provided a more representative idea of where Red Bull stands in the pecking order. On a comparable stint on soft tyres, his average time was 1m28.006s, with his lap times significantly dropping towards the end.
Some teams are expected to switch to a two-stop strategy to spend the least amount of time on the slower medium tyre. Drivers may prefer to do a short stint on the white-marked tyre in the middle stint, or keep it for the latter stages of the race.
Those starting outside the top 10 may run them in the first stint, hoping that an early safety car would help them get the slower tyre out of the way. However, this strategy is unlikely to work as first few laps are crucial to gain ground on rivals.
by Rachit Thukral