Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sepang International Circuit, 2017

“Worst Friday” for Mercedes gives Vettel a chance

2017 Malaysian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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“The lap time is reality,” said Mercedes’ Toto Wolff at the end of the team’s worst Friday showing so far this year.

When Valtteri Bottas ended his qualifying simulation run almost a second and a half off Sebastian Vettel’s best time, it looked like a blip. When Lewis Hamilton went out and did the same lap time to within a few hundredths of a second it underlined the surprise development of the day: Mercedes are struggling.

In Monaco, where the W08 wasn’t expected to be as competitive, they were 1.1 seconds off the pace on Friday. Last time out in Singapore where they were again tipped to be on the back foot, they were 0.7 seconds behind.

Charles Leclerc, Sauber, Sepang International Circuit, 2017
Malaysian Grand Prix practice in pictures
But in Malaysia, a track some predicted would suit them, their best effort left them 1.416 seconds away from the Ferraris. Even Fernando Alonso’s McLaren got closer than that.

Surely this was Mercedes ‘sandbagging’? “The stopwatch always tells the truth,” said Wolff. “The lap time today showed that we are not quick enough.”

“The car seems to be unbalanced and that triggers an awful lot of consequences and it was certainly one of the worst Fridays I can remember.”

It’s been a feature of Mercedes’ season that their car handles less well in hot temperatures, something this track has in abundance. But in Singapore when the rain fell and the track cooled Hamilton found his car handled better, yet today they struggled in rain and shine.

Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel has the scent of a chance to take points off Hamilton for the first time since the summer break. He badly needs to convert this opportunity. He looked in superb shape on Friday, leaving Kimi Raikkonen six-tenths of a second behind.

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If Sepang’s rain returns, however, watch out for the Red Bulls. “We were both looking pretty good in the wetter conditions,” said Daniel Ricciardo, “and on the intermediates we were at the pace and significantly quicker than everyone else, which we’ll take.”

“This afternoon we weren’t that competitive looking at Ferrari, but it looked like Mercedes struggled as well,” he added. Can the world champions solve their latest set-up mystery with their fickle machine? Their performance in final practice will be fascinating to watch.

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:

Drivers’ best practice times by tyre type

Driver Team Best super-soft time Super-soft gap Best soft time Soft gap Best medium time Medium gap
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’32.677 1.416 1’33.228 0.772 None
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’32.720 1.459 1’33.247 0.791 None
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’32.099 0.838 1’32.953 0.497 None
Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’32.109 0.848 1’32.739 0.283 None
Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’31.261 1’32.456 None
Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’31.865 0.604 1’32.836 0.38 None
Sergio Perez Force India 1’32.862 1.601 1’33.952 1.496 None
Esteban Ocon Force India 1’33.096 1.835 1’33.746 1.29 None
Felipe Massa Williams 1’33.394 2.133 None None
Lance Stroll Williams 1’33.818 2.557 None None
Fernando Alonso McLaren 1’32.564 1.303 None None
Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1’33.673 2.412 None 1’44.857 7.693
Carlos Sainz Jnr Toro Rosso 1’34.104 2.843 1’34.117 1.661 1’37.164
Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1’34.043 2.782 1’35.727 3.271 2’36.873 59.709
Romain Grosjean Haas 1’34.130 2.869 1’34.118 1.662 None
Kevin Magnussen Haas 1’34.343 3.082 1’34.441 1.985 None
Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’33.060 1.799 1’34.527 2.071 None
Jolyon Palmer Renault 1’33.381 2.12 1’34.693 2.237 None
Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1’35.697 4.436 1’35.980 3.524 None
Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1’35.246 3.985 1’35.587 3.131 None

2017 Malaysian 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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20 comments on ““Worst Friday” for Mercedes gives Vettel a chance”

  1. This is all fake. This is all the keep it exiting for as long as possible, i knew this would happen after the Singapore crash and here you have it. So called fake difficult day.

    1. I agree. Useless friday, to me the highlight of both practices was when Karun on c4 interviewed Ricciardo. Ricciardo is such a tease. He “thanked” Hamilton for having dnf last season’s Malaysian GP, that cracked me up, it’s trendy apparently to thank an opponent for being unlucky, really these mind games are silly. Di Resta was fine but half of sky’s practice coverage was about bad press, the clash, Arrivabene, blaming kimi for Grosjean’s crash, jesus.

    2. @noname
      So true. I just laughed when Toto came out and said he expected a fundamental issue inside the cars…

  2. Mercedes is sandbagging, it is clear.

    1. How? Do tell us. I watched both practice sessions and it was not clear to me.

    2. Jason Blankenship
      29th September 2017, 23:25

      Yup, another boring, Mercedes runaway is imminent.

  3. “The stopwatch always tells the truth,” said Wolff.

    Yeah the stopwatch does, team managers, not so often.
    So they are slower than Mclaren Honda? Yeah, right…

    1. Edd, so what do you make of the other 15 drivers that were also behind Alonso?

      1. The other 15 drivers that where doing practice runs and setting up the car? Im pretty sure all those cars including Alonso will go quicker tomorrow.

  4. the margin is surprising but the result is not that surprising to me. ferrari were very competitive at spa and this is a similar track but with less emphasis on top speed and with hotter track temps. red bull are decent. furthermore they lost the whole of the first session so if they’ve gone the wrong way on setup it will be hugely exposed in this one session.

  5. Hamilton on pole on Saturday 👍🏾

    1. I know this might be a bit of a surprise to some people. It called practice for a reason. So having dismantled your car after the last race, you reassemble it again at another rack, with different characteristics, and tweak the setup until you get the optimum setup. Sometimes, it throws up issues you have not seen before.

    2. Possibly. As of 1st & 2nd practice, that is all we can say. Will see after 3rd practice tomorrow.

  6. Hamilton was clearly penalised by his diet… sorry but I couldn’t resist😂

    1. You have to “thank” Hamilton for that.

      1. So no more injecting methane into the turbo ?

        1. Actually Ithink I have that the wrong way round, Brussels sprouts and Onion Bhaji could give him an edge..

          1. I have finally got it! I think he used to have fryups every raceday, that changed as he will be allowed to burn only 1.2L of oil x 100 km, hence the diet change.

  7. To clarify my post: Iit wasn’t a reference to Lewis, his diet choice is his own business .It was a reference to an article about the fact that his diet could have penalised him. I have found it quite hilarious.

    1. To clarify my post I was also referencing an hilarious and preposterous article of lewis. Thank opponents as in adding insult to injury.

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