Mercedes fly but Ferrari’s true pace was hidden

2016 Bahrain Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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The headline times painted a picture of overwhelming Mercedes superiority at the end of the first day of practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix. But the situation may not be quite so one-sided.

For much of Friday Ferrari seemed content not to play their hand. When they eventually did, we still didn’t get a clear read on their pace. Sebastian Vettel didn’t make the most of his clear lap on super-soft tyres and Kimi Raikkonen didn’t get one. “I had some traffic in my lap with the super-soft tyres,” he reported afterwards.

Raikkonen’s medium-tyre stint looked good
The upshot was the team which is widely expected to fill the second row of the grid behind the two Mercedes tomorrow ended practice an alarming 1.45 seconds slower than the silver cars. However we can probably gain a truer impression of the gap between the two by comparing their soft tyre times – on which Vettel got within half a second of the W07s.

The other remarkable development on Friday was the sheer pace being demonstrated by the cars. At a time when the sport is pursuing a controversial plan to reduce lap times by five seconds by relaxing aerodynamic rules, 12 months of car development plus softer tyre compounds yielded year-on-year improvements of 5.5 seconds in first practice and 3.6 seconds in second practice.

If we assume a second of that has come from the softer tyres, where has the rest been found? Thursday’s rain has probably left the teams with a much less dusty surface than they normally find on arrival in Bahrain. That would explain why when track evolution from first to second practice was over three seconds last year it was just 1.2s today. Most of that will be accounted for by the fact no one used the super-soft tyres in the first session.

Even so, with the fastest soft-tyre time of the day being Nico Rosberg’s 1’32.173, that still indicates around two seconds’ performance gain have come from the cars. If – and it’s a big ‘if’ – teams gain as much lap time tomorrow as they did from Friday to Saturday last year, Mark Webber’s 2005 track record of 1’29.527, set with a V10 engine and much looser aerodynamic rules, could fall.

Track temperature will play a significant role in determining whether that happens and, more importantly, how close Ferrari and the rest can get to Mercedes. This year’s race is being held slightly earlier than last year’s, and a cloudy day meant the asphalt was just 24C at the start of second practice – 12C lower than the same session last year.

McLaren are back in ‘motion blur’ territory
“We’ve had some very unusual weather in Bahrain this week which has made this quite a different Friday,” reflected Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe. “It’s been very cool. We didn’t see anything like the high track temperatures normally experienced in FP1 at this circuit.”

In these cooler-than-expected conditions Ferrari took the opportunity to further their knowledge of the medium tyre. The significance of this is that in Australia their reluctance to switch to the tyre during the race stoppage arguably cost them victory.

Raikkonen’s run on the medium tyre at the beginning of second practice (reflected in the graph below) will have given them some encouragement. He used this tyre to superb effect during the race last year and tyoday he quickly got up to speed on it again. On Sunday, when warmer air conditions and cloudless skies should produce higher track temperatures, Ferrari should be in good shape if they decide to use this tyre for a long stint.

McLaren’s performance was another major talking point. Last year they were 2.67% off the pace in Bahrain which was fairly typical of their season. Today they were just 1.41% down, and while it’s doubtful they will see out the weekend as ‘best of the rest’, it’s clearly cause for encouragement at Woking.

Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Nico RosbergMercedes1’32.2941’31.00162
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’32.7991’31.24256
3Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Honda1’35.4401’32.28160
4Max VerstappenToro Rosso-Ferrari1’34.8601’32.40650
5Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’34.1281’32.45254
6Sebastian VettelFerrari1’35.0731’32.65040
7Daniil KvyatRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’34.5411’32.70364
8Valtteri BottasWilliams-Mercedes1’35.1741’32.79260
9Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’34.4611’32.87050
10Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes1’35.0061’32.87355
11Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Honda1’36.3921’32.99955
12Esteban GutierrezHaas-Ferrari1’35.3091’33.12950
13Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso-Ferrari1’34.7931’33.17757
14Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’35.0001’33.38441
15Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’33.40635
16Kevin MagnussenRenault1’35.4901’33.44761
17Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes1’34.6011’33.57065
18Jolyon PalmerRenault1’36.9391’33.64063
19Pascal WehrleinManor-Mercedes1’36.3711’33.95347
20Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’35.7281’34.22461
21Felipe NasrSauber-Ferrari1’36.7191’34.47758
22Rio HaryantoManor-Mercedes1’37.7141’34.56260
23Alfonso CelisForce India-Mercedes1’37.28723

2016 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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18 comments on “Mercedes fly but Ferrari’s true pace was hidden”

  1. “12 months of car development plus softer tyre compounds yielded year-on-year improvements of 5.5 seconds in first practice and 3.6 seconds in second practice.”

    So for 2017 they’re going to make the cars 0,5s slower so their prediction of ‘5 seconds faster’ is correct?

    1. Hopefully they aint targeting free practice speeds in the 2017 plan.

    2. There’s no way of predicting what they’re going to do. It seems the teams’ representatives in these meetings are different people from the ones who know about F1, development, convergence, wake, physics and that stuff.

      But at least his engineers have now explained to Horner that wider tyres and cars need more power, and it’s not linear. And his engine supplier is catching up.

    3. Do not forget the track conditions, the track was not dusty at all and friday was really cool.

  2. Poor Sauber

    1. Yes, I think there must be a lot of frustration in Sauber.

  3. Don’t you mean Pedro de la Rosa’s record?

    1. @fer-no65 No: Pedro de la Rosa has the lap record, which has to be set during a race, but of course we see much quicker lap times when the cars run low fuel in other sessions. See here:

      1. @fer-no65 @keithcollantine So, which of you guys wants to update the Wikipedia article – still has MSC’s lap from 2004 as the record?

        1. @Optimaximal MSC’s lap from 2004 is the fastest f1 race lap recorded at this circuit, so I don’t understand why De La Rosa’s lap from the 2005 race has the official lap record status.

          1. T4 was re-profiled for 2005.

          2. Jerejj, the reason for that is because the layout of Turn 4 was modified between 2004 and 2005, reducing the length of the lap by 5 metres as a result. Schumacher’s lap in 2004 stands as the lap record for the original layout, whilst de la Rosa’s lap time in 2005 stands as the lap record for the circuit in its current configuration.

        2. @optimaximal I’ll stick to writing my own website, thanks!

          On Wikipedia anything you write can be changed by someone who doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about. In this case it would be someone who failed to realise, as @fastiesty points out, that the track configuration was different in 2004.

          1. @keithcollantine Sorry Keith, not sure why you felt the need to respond so forcefully, but I was just suggesting someone use their knowledge to correct the Wikipedia article, which incidentally is also scraped by Google and other sources when people search for ‘Bahrain International Circuit’.

          2. @optimaximal Sorry that was meant to be lighthearted, not forceful. But you know how it is, people are forever citing Wikipedia as an authority despite it often being incorrect, as you point ouy.

  4. raikkonen’s stint looks pretty ominous – let’s see what kind of start the red cars can get on sunday…

  5. The fastest ever lap time around this circuit was a 1’29.527 by Webber in FP4 in 2005. Curious to see what Rosberg/Hamilton can do in Q3.

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