Williams showed impressive pace on soft tyres during Friday practice in Russia, although Mercedes and Ferrari are likely to have an upper hand come Sunday.
Pirelli have brought the supersoft, soft and medium tyres for this week’s Russian Grand Prix, with the white-striped tyre not featuring at all during Friday’s running. Teams are unlikely to use the hardest of the three compounds over the remainder of the weekend.
Between the supersoft and the soft rubber, the latter proved to be a faster choice over long runs, while also offering better durability.
Bottas 1:41.709 (soft)
Bottas 1:41.709 (supersoft)
Massa 1:42.578 (soft)
Massa 1:42.258 (supersoft)
Williams have traditionally been conservative on Friday, opting not to show its true pace during practice. Hence, the fact that Valtteri Bottas was quickest of all on soft tyres comes as a surprise. The Finn, along with teammate Felipe Massa, were also Mercedes’ closest challenger when they trialled the supersoft rubber, which might well set alarm bells ringing in the Red Bull garage.
The Grove-based team came into the season with the target of retaining third place in the championship while occasionally knocking on the perches of Ferrari and Mercedes. However, it has failed to meet such expectations and also appear to have fallen behind Red Bull in the pecking order, if the first three races are a true indication of how teams stack up against each other.
Hamilton - 1:41.866 (supersoft)
Rosberg 1:42.050 (soft)
Rosberg - 1:42.091 (supersoft)
Lewis Hamilton was the only driver to have an average of under 1:42, with teammate Nico Rosberg not too far behind, with an average time of 1:42.091.
Hamilton, however, only completed his long run on supersoft tyres, while Rosberg’s race simulations were conducted on both the compounds.
Mercedes is expected to stay at the front this week, having responded to Ferrari’s power unit upgrade by using their own engine tokens.
Raikkonen - 1:42.971 (supersoft)
It is difficult to predict where Ferrari stands in the pecking order, despite many curious to know whether Scuderia has managed to closed the gap to Mercedes with major upgrades to both chassis and power unit.
Sebastian Vettel’s running was cut short by technical gremlins 10 laps into the session, although the German had already set the second quickest lap by then.
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen had a busy outing with a long stint of supersoft tyres, with Ferrari again testing the durability of the red-striped compound.
The Finn lapped consistently in mid 1:43s during the middle part of the stint, before returning to 1:42s, suggesting he was in conservation mode to eke out as much life as possible from the tyres. This piece of information will be useful for Ferrari come Sunday and set a benchmark for the rest of the field.
Daniil Kvyat was fourth quickest in soft tyre simulation, behind Bottas, Rosberg and Massa. Ricciardo, meanwhile, did a mammoth 22 lap stint on soft tyres and hence his average time wasn’t comparable with the rest of the field.
Supersoft - Five quickest times
Hamilton - 1:41.866
Rosberg - 1:42.091
Raikkonen - 1:42.971
Soft - Five quickest times
by Rachit Thukral