If you were to ask me about what my opinion is about Friday practice, I would say inconclusive. OK, that is not strictly true. Mercedes once again look the class act, both in qualifying and race trim, but the order of the following pack is a little difficult to decipher at the moment. This is perhaps due to another close contest for second place, but typical UK weather conditions made life difficult for all teams up and down the grid.
Let us first take into consideration qualifying pace. During these runs the wind conditions were at their worst and the drivers looked a little ragged at times. It is therefore important to consider this – alongside fuel loads – when comparing laptimes, as a light car is more affected by the wind.
Here are the top times from each team:
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 1:34.508s
2. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – +0.736s
3. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) – +1.003s
4. Valtteri Bottas (Williams) – +1.508s
5. Jenson Button (McLaren) – +1.720s
6. Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) – +2.075s
7. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) – +2.443s
8. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) – +2.556s
9. Sergio Perez (Force India) – +2.728s
10. Jules Bianchi (Marussia) – +4.150s
11. Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham) – +4.560s
The gap between Hamilton and Alonso is quite remarkable, but the Spaniard is probably not Mercedes’s main challenger. On the prime tyre Ricciardo split the two Mercedes cars and did not improve drastically on his option tyre run, which was pretty impressive. Alonso looked a little ragged as he once again dragged the scarlet Ferrari to places it should not really be going. You feel as if the F14 T cannot really progress from where it is now – this is not the first time we have seen a strong Friday showing from the Scuderia – but let us see what happens tomorrow.
What is confusing is that track conditions improved towards the end of the session but those who went out later did not receive the drastic improvement from the medium compound tyre – Pirelli estimate between 0.7-1.2s per lap – as expected. This was particularly the case with the two Red Bulls. Both RB10s look extremely well balanced in the middle sector but did not appear to be fast overall, just like Austria two weeks ago. This is probably a fuel related laptime deficit and there were certainly positive vibes from the team after FP2 had ended.
Looking at the sector times, there is no one single place where any team is losing out to the Mercedes cars, it is just that the W05 is a truly great piece of machinery on the chassis and aerodynamic fronts. Even Red Bull are over 0.3s slower in the middle, high-speed sector two.
Force India once again showed better race pace than qualifying speed and the car does not look bad to drive. They clearly lack overall downforce and Williams, Ferrari and McLaren have all moved away from them. This should not be a surprise due to their lower budget, but it is a little disappointing given that their latest upgrades were designed to propel them ahead of this little squabble.
Wind speeds died down a little during the latter stages of FP2 so the race runs were more representative. All teams chose to use the option tyre for their race simulations and it appears to be the favoured tyre for the race itself. Degradation is minimal and it is far quicker than the hard compound, orange striped tyre. A two-stop strategy seems likely although the weather factor could come into the equation should rain wash away the rubber laid down today. The forecast is for rain tomorrow so those who have not done a proper simulation – Hamilton, Vergne – could be heading into the unknown on Sunday.
Hamilton himself has admitted that he cannot really take much from his teammate’s data, probably down to the fact that Rosberg uses more fuel and manipulates the car more robustly on turn-in, compared to Hamilton’s – dare I say it – smooth style.
Hamilton’s oil pressure drop – he was using a Friday power unit that had already had a lot of mileage under its belt – meant that a comparison between the two title rivals was not on the cards, but Mercedes still showed their hand through Nico Rosberg. He was consistently lapping in the 1:39s throughout his 14 lap run – excluding anomalies. Nobody else looked close to this kind of pace so the Silver Arrows remain firm favourites to take the victory this weekend.
In behind is a very close bunch, with Red Bull just ahead of Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel’s run in particular was intriguing as he steadily ramped up the pace from a low 1:40 to some high 1:39s. This was promising pace from the German and he looked more comfortable on high fuel than teammate Ricciardo.
Alonso’s pace is possibly a little flattering as Ferrari tend to run lighter on Friday, but he should not be discounted. He was lapping consistently in the low 1:40s, so he could certainly give the Red Bulls a run for the money.
Williams and McLaren looked a little off the boil, although the former team lost a mountain of laptime thanks to their disastrous FP1. Jenson Button was flittering between a high 1:40 and a low 1:41, which simply is not ballpark pace at all. The improvements brought to Austria have not translated into on-track performance at Silverstone and the pressure is on the leading figures to produce the goods.
Felipe Massa looked the better of the two Williams drivers in the mid-1:40s, with Bottas lapping in the low 1:41s. They have the potential to get in amongst it but the team may be nervous for a wet qualifying session tomorrow, conditions which do not suit the FW36. Their electrifying starts could well come in handy on Sunday.
Another team to watch out for is Toro Rosso. Yes, they are suffering a few reliability problems but their car is pretty solid here. Both cars were lapping in the mid 1:40s and we know how good their wet-weather pace is. Watch out for these guys on Saturday, and definitely on Sunday.
Image courtesy of Octane Photographic