Sound and sight drives home the power unleashed here
Cradled within the verdant valley, we look down from the exit of Turn Four to a low horizon of black, where the tracks crests a rise and where all that marvellously mindless downforce and power will be unleashed. The audio that accompanies the scene as the yet-to-appear cars dive downhill then up, just before bursting over that horizon, is that of wild things running free.
You hear the insane acceleration and even the compression forces upon the cars in the dip after Turn Three, as the engine takes the downforce’s strain. They whoosh up to that blind exit in seventh gear, take a downshift almost on top of the apex, sparks flying from the floor and front endplates, the driver’s foot flat to the floor, dynamite and downforce combining in a visually more aggressive way than last year.
More permissive regulations have seen the cars flower and grow since then. They are now much more physical beasts. Valtteri Bottas turns in and hangs on, flirting with the extremes of the exit kerb, taunting the waiting gravel and again the grip pulls the engine note down in a way that wasn’t evident with the smaller, skinnier-tyred cars of before. The McLarens – which are turning almost as well as the Red Bulls everywhere else – have a smaller gap between their approach and mid-corner speeds, allowing them to flow through there with less drama than the ostensibly faster Mercs and Ferraris.
Early in the session the track is a long way from its grippiest, the valley’s dust that’s settled on the tarmac during the hot summer yet to be fully dispersed. So drivers are playing themselves in on the more treacherous parts, not yet taking liberties.
But one guy only has the session to show his stuff and has waited months to do it – Antonio Giovinazzi has a big twitchy slide in the Haas and is clearly eager to press on. The Ferrari engine is accelerating hard and early out of the loop of Five as he leaves our sight. We don’t see him again, only the red flags he has created.
Later, with the track rubbering in, Ricciardo’s throttle foot has been dancing in tune with the transient dynamics of the Red Bull into the slower corners, an artist at work as he cajoles and trances the car through at a flowing speed that looks barely believable. Is the bass leading the drummer or the drummer leading the bass? With him it’s so subtle you don’t see the joins, but back here at Turn Four there’s no need for such subtleties: it’s just arrive, turn, pull the downshift paddle once and re-apply full throttle immediately. So the Red Bull doesn’t show the advantage here over the Merc and Ferrari that it does into slower corners, but with a kerb-side twitch and shimmy it forces onward, chasing the magnificent irrelevance of shaved lap time.