Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2017

Mercedes running true to form after “strong” Friday

2017 Belgian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Seeing a Mercedes on top of a timing screen has been so commonplace over the last four seasons that it’s become something we take for granted.

But in 2017 the opposition has got closer. And as teams have different priorities the silver team haven’t always been the ones one top of the times in second practice. Today was only the fourth time it’s happened all year.

Felipe Massa, Williams, Spa-Francorchamps, 2017
Belgian Grand Prix practice in pictures
The other three tracks where Mercedes headed the second practice times were Catalunya, Red Bull Ring and Silverstone. These along with Spa all share similar characteristics and demand a chassis with good aerodynamic efficiency and performance in mid-to-high speed corners.

It all backs up the pre-race expectation that Mercedes would be the team to beat here. Lewis Hamilton said they had “one of our strongest Fridays so far this season” today.

The up-rated power units for the long straights allied to a new low-downforce configuration appears to be paying off. Come Saturday we can expect the team’s qualifying performance advantage will make it hard for their rivals to contest them for the front row.

Kimi Raikkonen led Ferrari’s attack today as Sebastian Vettel admitted he hadn’t got everything out of his car over a single lap. The race simulation runs were curtailed by rain, so a question mark remains over whether the red team will have anything for their rivals over a race stint, particularly on the ultra-soft tyres.

Renault’s Jolyon Palmer did the longest run on the softest available tyres, logging a maximum of 16 laps on one set. In a continuous stint his lap time rose by two seconds over 11 laps, indicating the teams won’t be able to run for long on this tyre on Sunday.

Red Bull attempted to bridge the gap to the top teams using a low-downforce Monza-style package on Daniel Ricciardo’s car, including a thin rear wing. This helped him set the fastest times through the first and third sectors, but he lost too much in the middle of the lap where he described his RB13 as being like “an F3 car”.

“We tried, I would have liked it to have worked but it didn’t,” he admitted. “At this stage it isn’t competitive to go with it.”

However Max Verstappen demonstrated the team is in decent shape with a more conventional set-up. And with more rain possible over the next couple of days, it could yet turn into a good weekend for Red Bull.

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:

Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’45.5551’44.75336
2Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’45.5021’45.01534
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’46.4241’45.18037
4Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’46.3021’45.22534
5Sebastian VettelFerrari1’45.6471’45.23533
6Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’46.3521’46.07237
7Nico HulkenbergRenault1’48.0371’46.44139
8Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’47.6701’46.47346
9Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso-Renault1’47.4461’46.56141
10Jolyon PalmerRenault1’47.9301’46.67037
11Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Honda1’48.2521’46.74338
12Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’48.4521’46.98437
13Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’48.6261’47.28535
14Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Honda1’47.8651’47.30335
15Daniil KvyatToro Rosso-Renault1’47.8511’47.45032
16Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’48.6151’47.55635
17Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’48.5411’47.86137
18Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’50.1601’49.21433
19Pascal WehrleinSauber-Ferrari1’51.2631’49.72531

2017 Belgian Grand Prix

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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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16 comments on “Mercedes running true to form after “strong” Friday”

  1. I know Palmer is slow but surely the drop off on the ultra softs isn’t 2 secs per lap!! ;)

    1. tune6, yes, Keith does seem to have made a mistake there – Palmer set three laps at a similar pace, then over the next eight laps his times dropped off by an average of about three tenths of a second per lap. What he probably meant to say was that his times at the end of his stint were around 2 seconds a lap slower than at the beginning of the stint.

  2. 11 laps only for Ultra-soft? Mercedes will try to make it work one stop (US-S) but RedBull surely had to do 2 stop…

  3. This should be the ideal track for M-Bs long wheel-base, slightly porky, and very powerful car. They best make hay here to offset Singapore, where I’m sure Ferrari and RBR are going to be all over them.

    1. @dmw Yes, but then again every once in a while we are surprised. I actually think Mercedes looked pretty poor this morning, quick but having issues with the tyres.

  4. The race simulation runs were curtailed by remain

    Typo here, @keithcollantine. I assume you intended to write “rain”.

    1. or was it Romain, having a bad day?

    2. Brexit gets everywhere :D

      1. Good one

  5. @keithcollantine

    Juggling the graph for different driver combination there is something strange: While Lewis Hamilton is shown as consistently fast, in the 1:10.6 range, there are only two dots for one driver (Marcus Ericsson) but both of those are three tenths quicker than Hamilton. Is this a result of him chasing quick laps instead of doing a stint proper, i.e. your “Very slow laps omitted” or did something go wrong during the graph construction?

    1. Yes he did very slow laps in between his push laps.

  6. I expected Honda to do much worse. I’m almost switching my bets on Alonso will stay. If he gets top Q3 this weekend, which seems possible, I’m sure he will stay. With all other calculations it means that the car had at least covered both the Red-Bulls even with Vardoorne with a Ferrari-like engine, which it quite sad of all things.

    But then again that is F1. As now for almost 3 years in a row it seems the Red-Bull would have won the constructors 7 times in a row if Renault would’ve not ”fired” RB as their works team. If you watch the understeer or weird powerslide in S2 of the Mercedes (the sole reason Hamilton is still a Sepang-engine away from shenanigans with Bottas) and that of the RB is certain sectors you get why Verstappen said he rather sort of ”kill Kimi” last year at Spa instead of letting him past, the RB has a even chassis.

    If Rain falls in Q3, Ferrari can make up so much more in S2 as the lap time will go over 2:00 and Kimi could surprise me then. This circuits feeds his driving style very well, no 90-degrees corners, many mid-speed corners, and many low speed corners are not full brakes and are angled or banked in the nature – P.S This is a reason Tilke designed those bland circuits, so that those F3 kids can drive aggressively and get away with it, remember Schumi’s Mercedes pole, look up where he gained the most time and watch the elevation, who took pole this season there? – Kimi always dared to go on the throttle earlier on those circuits.

    Kimi gets Bottas his odds for me of grabbing a pole if it rains really heavy, but I don’t think being realistic more then P2 would be possible. Kimi and Vettel could only get it truly in a monsoon kind of Q3-session.

    1. @xiasitlo
      I don’t know you can expect Honda to do worse than this. They are 2 seconds a lap off the Mercedes pace, which is actually a greater margin than they had last year. They aren’t quicker than the Force India, Toro Rosso or Renault. They’ll definitely have terrible race pace in addition to be being plagued with reliability problems. The only team they are convincingly better than, is Sauber… which isn’t saying much.

      I don’t see them qualifying higher than 13th on the grid, and I seriously doubt both cars will finish the race. The possibility of points will disappear every time a car blows by them on the straights.

      I honestly think that they’re going to be back under the gun after their “positive” weekend in Hungary.

      1. @todfod
        Alonso 11th with bad luck. Hmmm.

        1. @xiasitlo

          Think I was fairly accurate with that prediction. What say?

          1. @todfod

            Fairly well predicted indeed. Although I’d started the weekend saying I expected them to do much worse too. But after all I’ve got to admit: Well done.

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