F1 Imola GP, Friday: Mercedes better; AT/Ferrari positive; Mazepin's spins
The Friday in Imola GP was interestingly placed.
The Friday in F1 Imola GP was disruptive but saw familiar faces on the top, while the lower mid-pack had some new ones with strong runs.
It was a much better start for Mercedes in F1 Imola GP, where Valtteri Bottas led the way in both FP1 and FP2 from teammate Lewis Hamilton. In fact, the Finn set his best time on the medium compound, as the team focused on working on engine system on soft tyres.
But overall, it was positive feeling. Even though Red Bull couldn't show their hand, both the Mercedes F1 drivers are wary of their performance. "The car is feeling much better than on the first day in Bahrain," said Bottas. "The weekend has started in a positive way, I'm much happier with the balance of the car.
"The car feels better, we still have the same type of issues as in Bahrain but less so. Still not perfect but we are only on event two out of 23 this season so hopefully we have time to fix it. I feel like we've made steps forward so that's really good. The whole grid from midfield to the front looks very close.
"We didn't see the best from Red Bull today but we'll see that in Q3. No doubt they are going to be fast. We still don't think we are the fastest car and we really need to improve on that on Saturday," summed up Bottas, as Hamilton concurred about the situation with Mercedes, while added his appreciation for AlphaTauri and Pierre Gasly.
The Frenchman finished third in FP2, after Max Verstappen was third in FP1. The Dutchman couldn't get a quick time after a driveshaft failure. It was crucial miles miss as he will now be on the backfoot. Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez had his share of trouble too in FP1, when he collided with Alpine's Esteban Ocon due to communication error.
The Mexican F1 driver is still getting to grips with the car, especially on his one-lap pace. He focused on learning how the car behaves on a different surface in Imola. Despite the lack of pace from Verstappen, the team seems to be in good spirits to challenge Mercedes again, but will keep an eye on its sister outfit, AlphaTauri.
After an for Yuki Tsunoda in FP1, the Japanese came back well in the Top 10, but teammate Gasly stole the show. "I think this has been one of our best Fridays as a team, P4 this morning and P3 this afternoon, and I was so close to the top guys," said the French F1 driver. "I’ve felt good in the car since the first lap and I managed to push pretty hard, as well as drive the way I wanted, so I think it’s been a successful day.
"We focused on short runs initially with the Softs, which looked strong pace wise and then completed some high-fuel laps in preparation for the race on Sunday. We’ve continued to work hard to improve against our main rivals in the midfield and I think, so far, we’ve shown that the pace is good. We’ll analyse the data that we’ve collected again tonight and hopefully we can find a little bit more again in qualifying."
While they had a good time, they will be cautious about the change from Honda for Tsunoda. He had a new ES and CE fitted onto his car, same as Gasly and Perez in Bahrain - it is becoming a bit of a pattern, with changes already in two F1 races.
Ideally, AlphaTauri should have had McLaren up there with them, but it was Ferrari in both the sessions, despite the crash for Charles Leclerc in FP2. Both the F1 driver showed good pace to be comfortably inside the Top 10 - their one-lap pace was strong in Bahrain too.
"This was definitely a good day, despite the time lost in the first session and the incident just at the end of the second one," said Leclerc. "The car is quick, the balance is good and I felt at ease immediately. Of course, it’s only on Saturday that we will find out the pecking order, because maybe someone hasn’t shown their full potential.
"This afternoon, I made a mistake while pushing flat out in race trim. I’m sorry for the guys but at least there were only two minutes to go. I was pleased with my quick lap: the time that was cancelled because of a couple of centimetres would have been quickest overall and even over a long run I think we have found a good balance."
Teammate Sainz felt good as well, especially having to drive the car in a new track, other than Bahrain. The Ferrari pace is slightly concerning for McLaren, as Lando Norris noted. The team did not look good on the timing sheets and admitted that they have some work to do overnight, but remain optimistic that they can find that extra bit.
"It's not easy, we haven't got the car in a great place just yet," said Norris to Sky F1. "It's not settled down to this track as easily as it did to Bahrain. A little bit harder, but it's kind of what we expected from what we knew from last year, we struggled a little bit more here comparing to Bahrain too, but just some tracks the car goes better on and this is one of the ones we knew was going to be a bit tougher for us.
"But we made some good improvements from FP1 to FP2 so hopefully, we can make another little step. I think in Bahrain they were definitely quicker than us in the majority of corners, not all of them, but here they look very quick. I don't think it's something we didn't expect, maybe they're a bit quicker than we expected but we knew some races they'd be ahead and some races we'd be ahead.
"It's Ferrari, if there's one team at the moment that's going to make a big improvement somewhere it's them. So not a surprise, but maybe that little bit faster than we anticipated, but not a shock," summed up Norris, as Daniel Ricciardo termed it as a challenging outing. Behind them, Alpine and Aston Martin kind of matched each other again.
They did manage to get into the Top 10 but not with both their cars. Both the F1 outfits felt positive from Bahrain, but added that they still have some work to do. Ocon had an incident with Perez, which he put it down to communication error too. For Alfa Romeo Racing, it looked like they would be in play against the above two outfits.
Antonio Giovinazzi managed to make it into the Top 10 in FP2, while Kimi Raikkonen said he had pace too, but couldn't complete a clean lap. They quietly seem confident, but will have to get everything right, to have a fight for points. Another surprise was the performance of Nicholas Latifi, who had a Top 10 run as well.
Even his teammate George Russell acknowledged that Latifi did better than him, as the Canadian outdid his own expectations. "As a team we are looking relatively fast, but personally I am a bit off the pace," said the British F1 driver. "Nicholas is driving really well, probably the best I have seen him drive. I need to improve quite a bit to close the gap to our competitors, and to Nicholas.
"As a team we are in a good position, we have a lot of data to review but I’m sure that my engineers and I can figure it out." At the back, it wasn't the best outing again for Nikita Mazepin, even though, Mick Schumacher managed to keep it in somehow.
Mazepin had multiple spins in FP1, but came back to complete enough laps in FP2. “I think we had a positive day – I really learned a lot about the car," he said. "I think I made another very good step forward with the team in terms of understanding what car I want to drive. I had a good lap time in FP1, it was a good quali simulation, I was happy with it.
"I then made a mistake which there was no coming back from, but overall, it was a positive FP1 and then FP2. I’m not leaving anything on the table out there. I wouldn’t want to go to sleep thinking I’ve left some time out there. There's a balance of course, which I haven’t mastered yet, but we have time. All eyes are on FP3 now – the weekend progresses and I have to keep progressing with it as well."
It was less disruptive than FP1 but there was still a red flag in the end.
[Image courtesy: Red Bull Content Pool] [Note: This story was written on FormulaRapida.net]