Japanese GP Friday F1 Talk: Mercedes/Ferrari pace, midfield fight & more
Mercedes led the way on Friday in F1 Japanese GP with Ferrari lacking pace as McLaren remained strong in the midfield with Renault lacking.
With F1 Japanese GP track action for Saturday cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis at Suzuka, teams utilised Friday to make the most of the available time in the dry. Mercedes was the team to beat as they put up a strong show in both FP1 and FP2.
Valtteri Bottas was the fastest of the two Silver Arrows ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton. The Finn felt happy all-together despite a spin. "It’s been a very positive day for us," he said. "I’m very happy with the car in general, and it felt good from the beginning.
"I think we can still make some small tweaks to improve the balance of the car, but overall it felt good both on the short and the long runs. We used some of the tyres from Saturday, and the weather stayed nice, so we got plenty of running in which is great.
"We expect Sunday to be close in both qualifying and the race, so we need to keep pushing." Even though Hamilton was just a tenth behind Bottas, the British racer was still upbeat about the weekend. "We got through our programme," he started.
"It’s a work in progress [still]. Valtteri showed some good pace and it seems we are in a good position at this point of the weekend." On the other hand, Ferrari looked to have lost their resurgent form after the dramas in the F1 Russian GP.
They looked to struggle as they finished behind both the Mercedes in FP1, almost a second of the pace of the Silver Arrows. The struggles continued to an extent in FP2 as they slipped behind a Red Bull Racing of Max Verstappen as well.
"It was not too bad, at least it was better than it looked," said Sebastian Vettel. "We are in reasonable shape, but maybe we are lacking a bit of pace overall. Our rivals looked very comfortable right from the start of practice, and they confirmed that pace in FP2.
"I think we have a bit of room for improvement as it wasn’t an ideal session, in terms of how we made use of our tyres." Teammate Charles Leclerc echoed his sentiments, with the Monegasque hoping to bridge some performance by Sunday.
Even though the qualifying is pushed to Sunday, there is a chance of it getting cancelled as well due to rain and or if the track is not ready, so the drivers approached FP2 differently as the result can count for the starting grid of F1 Japanese GP.
That actually played in Ferrari's mind as they opted for a late push lap - which helped them to leapfrog Alexander Albon at least. Meanwhile, Red Bull looked off the pace in FP1 finishing behind Mercedes and Ferrari but came back well in FP2.
As mentioned above, Verstappen closed the gap to Mercedes to finish third but the Dutchman still feels that they need something more. "I wasn’t totally happy with the balance initially but we improved a lot from FP1 to FP2," he said.
"There are still improvements to be made and Mercedes are looking very strong, which is no surprise on this track, but we made a good recovery from this morning. The new Esso fuel also seems to be a good step forward in terms of power which is really positive."
Red Bull were banking on the fuel upgrade as well, which seems working fine for now. On the other hand, Albon had a clean run but was only sixth on his first time at the track. He was happy with a cleaner Friday but had small complains about his seat being too big.
On the midfield side, McLaren ended up as the best of the rest with both their cars finishing inside the Top 10 and in the same position. Carlos Sainz's day did not start well after it broke down a few meters from the pit exit due to a power issue.
But he came back strong to put in a mighty lap to finish seventh in both FP1 and FP2, while Lando Norris was 10th in both. At the same time, their immediate rivals, Renault looked out of sync as they finished both the sessions outside the Top 10.
Both the drivers ran their initial qualifying simulations early in FP2 and thus ended up at the back of the pack. They tried for a push lap towards the end, only for both to encounter traffic. There will be nervy moments should F1 qualifying gets cancelled on Sunday.
"It was a tough Friday for us," said Nico Hulkenberg. "We made some changes between sessions that seemed to help. We had some balance problems with a lack of grip, especially in Sector One, but worked through it to end the day happier.
"The times aren’t strictly representative as we ran out of sync with the others." Teammate Daniel Ricciardo inferred the same as well. Even though Renault feels they have pace, it more seemed like Racing Point showed more of it by a double Top 10 finish.
They continued their resurgence, especially with Sergio Perez in eighth in both FP1 and FP2, while Lance Stroll was not far behind. They could be chasing McLaren if not Renault. Apart from the three, it was a mixed run for Alfa Romeo Racing, Haas and Toro Rosso.
Alfa Romeo suffered due to reliability with Antonio Giovinazzi in FP1 and Kimi Raikkonen in FP2. The Italian only managed a handful of laps with hydraulic issues, but fortunately Raikkonen did not lose much time. They were outside Top 10 though in both sessions.
At the same time, Toro Rosso had a mixed run. Honda-backed Naoki Yamamoto did well in FP1, finishing just one-tenth behind Daniil Kvyat. The changes made between the F1 sessions helped them put up an impressive show with Pierre Gasly finishing inside Top 10.
It remains to be seen how well they go on Honda's home event. While Alfa Romeo struggled outside Top 10, Haas had a similar result but they had a good run in both the sessions still with Romain Grosjean closer to Top 10.
Kevin Magnussen had traffic on his flying laps and couldn’t match his teammate for pace but the overall mood was positive. For Williams, it was data gathering sessions as Robert Kubica ran the new front wing, while George Russell had an aero run.
[Note: This story was written by Venkatesh P Koushik and edited by me on FormulaRapida.net]