Red Bull can potentially upset Mercedes in Sunday’s US Grand Prix, if free practice is any indicator of their relative performance.
Daniel Ricciardo split the two Mercedes drivers in FP2, ending within two tenths of pacesetter Nico Rosberg.
In the long runs, Ricciardo was even more impressive, setting an average time of 1:42.958 on the supersoft compound. Both Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton trailed that figure by a tenth of a second, ringing alarm bells at Mercedes.
Ricciardo’s soft tyre run was less representative of Red Bull’s sheer pace as it was much shorter than his rivals. But Max Verstappen in the sister car showed that the RB12 was just as good on the yellow-marked tyre.
"I think it is one of our best Fridays for sure," said Ricciardo. "Our long run pace looks like we were able to match them if not be quicker. But I have said it before. It is Friday, but it is nice to have a good Friday.”
However, Mercedes have the potential to take a massive leap on Friday night, swinging back the advantage in their hand.
At Suzuka, Red Bull were agonisingly close to Mercedes during practice, only for the Brackley-based squad to come back stronger on Saturday to sweep the front row. They later went on to win the race.
Moreover, Hamilton’s FP2 running was compromised by changes to the brake settings that made him feel uncomfortable behind the wheels of the W07 Hybrid.
"I wasn't comfortable in the second session," Hamilton said. "I had some problems with the braking and that was losing me quite a lot of time. We had made some changes which made the car better but then we had some brake setting changes which were disastrous.”
Away from the fighting duo of Mercedes and Red Bull, Ferrari appear to be a distant third, with Sebastian Vettel admitting the team are on the backfoot heading into Saturday.
"It was a tough day," he admitted. "This morning we had a problem with a little wing that failed and came off. We lost some track time and it was a bit costly for the afternoon because we couldn't really rebalance the car. We're a bit on the back foot today.
"I'm not entirely happy with the car balance yet; it's a little bit too nervous all around. Usually on Friday you don't see the full picture, so hopefully tomorrow we'll be a bit stronger."
Ricciardo - 1:42.958
Rosberg - 1:43.120
Hamilton - 1:43.177
Verstappen - 1:43.247
Raikkonen - 1:43.391
Ricciardo - 1:42.762 (short)
Verstappen - 1:42.834
Rosberg - 1:43.288
Vettel - 1:44.646 (long)
Hamilton - 1:43.920
by Rachit Thukral