Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2017

Why it’s too soon to write Ferrari off

2017 Australian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Ever since Ferrari left the final day of pre-season testing with a margin of more than two-thirds of a second over Mercedes there have been high hopes they might take the fight to their silver rivals in 2017.

Those hopes appeared to be dashed when the cars hit the track for the first race weekend of the year in Melbourne. Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes W08 over half a second clear of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari SF70H, and said afterwards the team had recovered from its pre-season struggles.

But it’s still too soon to despair about the prospects for the rest of the season when all we have seen is two practice sessions. It remains to be seen how much more performance the teams have in hand for qualifying.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2017
Australian Grand Prix Friday practice in pictures
Will Mercedes be able to turn up their engines to the extent they were able to for flying laps last year? The high-profile engine failure Hamilton suffered in Malaysia has prompted some changes to its power unit in the interests of reliability.

Meanwhile Ferrari have known for some time this is a deficit in their power unit they need to address. Romain Grosjean revealed after testing that Haas wouldn’t run the car in maximum power mode until tomorrow’s qualifying session.

Given that, his appearance in eighth place on the overall lap times table, comfortably ahead of all the Mercedes customer teams with his 2017 Ferrari power unit, surely bodes well for the factory team. It suggests either Haas has got a very good car, or Ferrari is still keeping something in reserve.

The odds favour a Mercedes win at the moment but a one-two may not be possible unless Valtteri Bottas makes some progress overnight. His combined best sector times indicate he could have done a 1’24.072, fractionally quicker than Vettel’s potential 1’24.118, but the gap to his team mate is a further indication of where the car should be.

As we saw last year Mercedes will often explore two different set-up directions with its drivers and harmonise on a single approach overnight, at which point their lap times get much closer. Bottas needs to do that tomorrow to get within range of his team mate.

But even if Mercedes romp to a one-two we should be wary of writing off the competition too soon. Melbourne has always been a track where Mercedes have tended to go well and Ferrari less so.

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In 2015 Ferrari began the year 1.64% behind Mercedes on pure pace at this track yet went on to win three races. Based on today’s lap times the gap is 0.65%. We should at least wait to see what qualifying brings before passing judgement on their form.

Red Bull made an even more low-key start to the season, lapping over a second off the Mercedes. Encouragingly for Renault the fixes it brought for the problems it encountered in testing appear to have worked. Will they have more power to play with tomorrow as a result?

There also remains the possibility tomorrow’s qualifying session could be affected by rain. The threat appears to be diminishing at the moment, but Melbourne has a reputation for unexpected showers.

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 Friday practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’24.2201’23.62056
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’25.4641’24.16745
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’24.8031’24.17659
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’25.3721’24.52546
5Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’24.8861’24.65046
6Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’25.2461’25.01327
7Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso-Renault1’26.4501’25.08458
8Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’26.1681’25.43649
9Nico HulkenbergRenault1’26.1831’25.47851
10Daniil KvyatToro Rosso-Renault1’26.5141’25.49364
11Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’26.2761’25.59164
12Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Honda1’27.1161’26.00037
13Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes1’26.1421’26.33134
14Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’27.6561’26.14560
15Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’27.3481’26.49859
16Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’26.7341’26.52556
17Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Honda1’28.6951’26.60847
18Pascal WehrleinSauber-Ferrari1’28.5391’26.91952
19Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’27.6671’27.27928
20Jolyon PalmerRenault1’28.5851’27.54910

2017 Australian 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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45 comments on “Why it’s too soon to write Ferrari off”

  1. Practice nowadays is basically just “Who can sandbag more”

    1. @hugh11 that’s McLaren

    2. Whilst that is true. I still remember watching the Kimi onboard and the Bottas onboard at testing, and the Ferrari was .6 quicker but much much much lighter much later on the brakes, Bottas was also quicker on turn 3 and on slower speed corners, the car seems to have the same behaviour as last years, very nimble, it’s a long car, it has a little bit of understeer and that’s it, a track such as Melbourne is always going to play on Mercedes engine strengths, very hard to predict anything but Merc at the front.

  2. The fact that this article already exists proves how impatient people are and how quickly they jump into conclusions (we are into 2 practice sessions and I’ve seen Hamilton crowned champion already).

    It is a new formula with a lot of room for improvement throughout the season. Even if a team dominates the first races it doesn’t mean it will be the team to beat at the end of the year, the learning curve on this cars will be enormous.

    Of course Mercedes are favourites, but it is far too soon to tell what is going to happen.

    1. Agreed and yeah I had to stop reading all the doom and gloom comments already handing the trophy to LH.

    2. This is a standard FP2 analysis done by Keith as he done over the years. FIA publishes the data in their website and people were commenting based on it.

      Now Ferrari generally have seen to be closer or even beat Mercs in the long run in FP2 a few times in the past, only to fall back on race day. Maybe they ran heavy this time, maybe Mercs are really faster than Ferrari. It remains to be seen.

      All we do is speculate on the data available to us. Given that the Mercs generally improve over the season and Ferrari generally falter, it was stated that this could be an easy WC for Lewis Hamilton as Bottas seems a lot slower that his team mate on similar machinery.

      After all this, RB are further behind than they were at the end of last year. So it is easy to come to conclusions.

      Most are hoping that what they see isn’t true and will happily accept if Ferrari show improved performance and challenge the Mercs on race day.

      Until then, please excuse us if we aren’t filled with optimism for the upcoming season.

      1. There’s a whole season ahead so there is only reason for optimism. They’re all still learning their cars and the tires, we don’t know what anyone’s reliability will be like, different teams will be stronger at different tracks…there’s a reason they run all the races. My goodness if the very first practice session was always the indicator of the season, F1 would have ended as an entity decades ago.

        1. In the last three years of the Formula, Mercs proved to be the fastest package. Barring the odd weekend where they totally lost their way in terms of setup, when were they ever challenged.

          When they still have the best PU and have shown that they are best in Aero in the CFD age, what reason is there to believe that someone will suddenly out develop them.

          Finally if it is ok to have a optimistic view, it should be fine to have a realistic one as well based on the available facts. It might change based on new evidence but as of now nothing has come out contrary to Merc domination.

          I will be watching the season no matter what team dominates. The removal of token system for engine has provided a way for teams to get their PU in order. So there’s that.

          1. @evered7 Fair enough. Just seems odd to take said ‘available’ initial facts as the reality when they haven’t even raced yet, and things only ‘might change’ based on ‘new evidence.’ You want to assume dire Merc domination and for all we know they may only be slightly ahead or even with a team or two depending on the track and circumstances and development of others etc etc. Everything to play for but because of the past, the future is guaranteed to remain the same? Strange. A thousand potential variables every race but one practice session in and it’s decided. Why watch? Why not just ignore F1 for exactly one year and see how the 2018 cars do in the first practice session of the season, and then take it from there?

          2. @evered7 you are not basing your said “conclusions” in solid facts or data, you are basing them in masked information from the first 2 practice sessions of a new formula where you have no idea what teams are doing.

            Neither I or @robbie are being optimistics here, neither are you being realistic, simply because you don’t have the information for it.

            Sure Merc may walk away with both titles, and that is ok, and if I had to bet I would put my money on it but at this precise moment that is not a given. You said it yourself in your 1st comment, you are just speculating, you might be right but surely that is not related to this two sessions.

            You can’t even make assumptions on the drivers performance. I agree Ham is the better of the two, but that is not an idea that comes from what we have seen today. And surely you don’t believe Bottas performance will be the same throughout the year, especially when he is new to the team, when if he adapts fantastically well and ends up out-scoring Ham?

            For me it is hard to understand how people get into this unreasonable conclusions in a 20 race season of an almost completly new formula with an imense potential for improvement, that’s all. It is not about being optimist or whatever you might insinuate, I just find it bemusing

          3. “In the last Three/two/one years they completely dominated, Why would this Year be any different?”-Everybody in 1969, 1971, 1978, 1991, 1994, 2000, 2005,…….

          4. And this everybody is why @mrboerns is allowed to use that profile picture

          5. @robbie I can change my perception of the running order based on each session and available data out of it?
            Australia might not even give us the right order because it is not a regular track and many cars that don’t do well, do good in other ‘race’ tracks. It is a unique track. I agree on these fronts myself.

            My opinion is purely based on the fact that the Merc PU is the best of the lot and right now no one seems to have an answer to Mercedes being able to use ‘high power’ settings for a few seconds in the race and not to mention Q3 to blast their way to a fast lap. Also that the FP2 times show that Merc cars are on average faster than the rest on the long runs as well.

            Come FP3, Qs, race day, if the order changes I will gladly accept.

            You guys are basing it on the fact that there ‘may’ still be more to come from the rest of the pack while I am just putting out my views based on what I saw today.

            @johnmilk I am realistic because I say what I see. If tomorrow, Ferrari put the cars on top in Q3, I would come here and say that Ferrari did very good sandbagging during the FPs.

            So let’s all have our view points and not whine about others having a point of view which incidentally lead to me replying to your post.

          6. Nobody is whining @evered7 we are all trying to explain our ideas as well as possible. We don’t agree which is more than fair. ;)

            After all this is why I come here, to discuss F1 with fellow fans such as myself, surely that is your case as well.

            In one thing I think you will be on the same page as I am. Lets just get on with it, I can’t wait anymore

          7. Just one last thing, I’m not basing my argument in what extra may come from other teams, my argument is based in the fact that I don’t know pretty much anythong atm. Which means that the merc gap could even be more than 1s, I just don’t have an idea of how things stand, or if what we are seeing is in fact true pace.

          8. @johnmilk Peace, mate. Let’s hope for a great season of racing with more than one team in it for the title.

            I am happy to be proven wrong of my previous statements if it means close racing between two or even three teams at the sharp end of the field.

      2. thank you for proving my point

        1. Indeed, he seems to be of these who draw conclusions for the whole season based on 0 qualifying or race. Gotta love it.

  3. Really good analysis as always!

    I completely agree, it’s easy to assume that the Mercedes (particularly Hamilton) will dominate based on today’s timings, but it is only practice. To draw those conclusions, you’d also have to conclude that Grosjean is almost two seconds faster than Magnussen in the same car, which I somewhat doubt.

    I think the Mercedes cars will be quickest, but I don’t think it’ll be by the scary margin we saw this morning.

  4. Both Ferrari an redbull have more to come. It had been customary for Mercedes to be quick on Friday practice, and usually more than today’s advantage. The best torro Rosso is only .4 behind redbull. Tomorrow will be the day to find out the truth.

    1. And even then that’s them running in clean air. Let’s see them race in anger on Sunday for the truth about how these cars will race with each other.

      1. don’t forget about the nokia 3310 premonition

        1. could someone explain that 3310 joke to me please? This is the second time in a week i come across its mention )) I’m just really curious now)

          1. @johnmilk

            lol many thanks))

  5. Guys one thing we all should remember. Previous years Ferrari are quicker in both testing and practice sessions but once they came to quali they were kicked out by both Merc and Redbull. I think this year as Wolff says they use more power for quali Ferrari might be running on less power than they usually does. Lets hope for the best of Ferrari and F1

  6. What tyre choices were the drivers using in FP2 when they had their fast laps?

    1. The Mercedes, Ferrari’s and Ricciardo used ultra softs. Verstappen aborted his run on the softest compound after going off track. His fastest time was done on super soft.

  7. Ben (@chookie6018)
    24th March 2017, 12:44

    As someone who watched both sessions from the first sector I couldn’t help but feel that the Mercedes was just faster than the Ferrari through the mid corners. A couple other observations, – The toro Rosso was glued to the track through the first corner and I think they are going to challenge Force India for 7th & 8th in qualifying. The Mclaren Honda sounds awful but it almost seems like a gearbox issue, every up shift seemed so stressful on the engine and just emitted a horrible noise. I think Hulkenberg & Grosjean will stand out from their teammates, they just had better car control and yes I understand there teammates had limited running. From Melbourne Cheers.

    1. Cheers bud, nice to hear from someone who’s there and has a track side view on things, not the greatest of news about the Mclaren though.

    2. Actually, to me it looked like Ferrari lost most of their time to Mercedes in the braking zones. And it also seemed to be less eager on turn in.

  8. how come toro roso improve 1.1 sec avg. of their driver & red bull only improved 0.25 sec? i say it’s “red bull that is sandbagging most”.

    1. Who knows? Only they do. It was practice not a race.

    2. or may be the new Directive which doesn’t allow RBR to use their susp to its fullest making them slower

      1. Well, Red Bull did say they went wrong on setup in the afternoon, changed it a bit, but will only be able to go back to something better for tomorrow @sg26, @robbie, so from that we could believe they will be closer come Saturday, and the race; it is not a total unknown.

        1. @bosyber
          According to AMUS Redbull was running with out the trick suspension they used in 2016 for most of the races. So with out it might cause the setup issues we heard we are hearing it since test 2 – Spain which is exactly the time they had to take it off.
          Full details here

  9. Great to read a balanced article weighing up the various factors, written with intelligent reasoning and a whole heap of F1 expertise. Thanks.
    Haas may be the big surprise.

  10. That was a really good article with a serious analysis. Most of the other F1 media have crowned Mercedes already. If Ferrari topped the times on Friday they would say that “Friday testing means nothing”. That’s hilarious.

  11. Toro Rosso is looking neat in the midfield.

  12. Why it’s too soon to write Ferrari off? Because nobody has raced yet, so nobody can know anything. To believe otherwise is more than stupid.

  13. Can’t wait for the race to get under way, the pre-season speculation does my head in; people jumping to conclusions and ready to hand out the silverware before it’s even begun :|

  14. I was watching the video of FP2 and they had a piece showing the race-cam from the McLaren-Honda car. I think the sound of the engine sounds much better than the engine did last year.

  15. I think part of the instant negativity is because we’ve waited for so long. 4 months feels like a long time. So the eyes are on, the press have got their pens at the ready and everything is an instant reaction. A hot take if you like. Whatever happens this weekend doesn’t confirm anything. It aint set in stone. Merc are favourites and they might win the race but that doesn’t mean anything come November. We’ve had 1 day of running. Just wait and see

  16. It’s never to soon to write Ferrari off. They are hopeless.

Comments are closed.