Think the first practice sessions of the 2019 Formula 1 season are an accurate marker of race performance? Think again
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So we find out at Melbourne what we didn’t in Barcelona Formula 1 testing, do we? Well, not if Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix is any guide.
The competitive picture was actually much clearer after two weeks of testing than it was today.
But correlating what we saw on Friday afternoon at Melbourne with how it looked in testing at Barcelona, there is actually a pattern: the outliers are Ferrari and – to a lesser degree, Red Bull. Pretty much everything else tallies.
The Scuderia was giving nothing away…
The percentage lap time gap Mercedes to the midfield is much as it was in Barcelona. Max Verstappen’s Red Bull didn’t get a representative qualifying or race simulation, so is under-represented. The midfield is so close that small differences will jumble up its order, but here Alfa and Renault appeared to have made progress to rise to the front of that group, with McLaren falling to the back of it. Williams, as expected, trails at the very back over 1sec away from the penultimate place.
Regardless of Red Bull’s travails, the feeling inside that team is that it is genuinely around 0.3sec off Mercedes on the qualifying simulations (regardless of Verstappen and Pierre Gasly’s times being 0.8sec adrift of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’). But as to why Ferrari should be only fourth (with Sebastian Vettel barely any quicker than Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa) is more difficult to explain. Very conservative engine settings or a genuine problem? The Scuderia was giving nothing away – but it would be extraordinary if it was not way faster tomorrow.
2019 Australian Grand Prix FP2 results
On the long run race stint simulations Mercedes also headed the way, with Hamilton shading Bottas by a couple of tenths average on the soft tyres. This was a full 0.7sec faster than Vettel managed on the same tyres (albeit on a slightly longer run). That just does not tally – especially as it is barely any quicker than Nico Hülkenberg’s average over a longer run in the Renault.
Pierre Gasly did Red Bull’s only meaningful long run and was a couple of tenths off Vettel. Charles Leclerc, only ninth-quickest in the quali sims, did only three laps on the soft tyres before switching to the hards for his long run. But none of the other front runners did a long run on the hard tyre.
Muddying the waters even further, on the medium tyres the Ferraris were suddenly right with the Mercedes. Bottas was quickest by less than a tenth from Vettel and Hamilton.
Even the soft tyre seemed to be standing up just fine despite track temperatures that peaked at around 44deg C ,and nominal one-stops look set to be the default (with the proviso of extra stops for the fastest lap bonus point, especially if you have more than a pitstop’s-worth of gap back to the next car).
So, as the great philosopher Räikkönen likes to say: “We’ll see tomorrow.”