Wet qualifying may be the chance Mercedes’ rivals crave

2017 Brazilian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Mercedes used some of their Friday running to work on developments for the W09 car they will race next year.

But as the track warmed up in second practice it showed one of the key aspects of car performance in 2017 remains unchanged: this being that the Mercedes isn’t quite as strong in hotter conditions.

Neither Mercedes driver improved on their best time from first practice in the second session. Their performance advantage over the rest of the field in second practice shrunk from more than half a second to just two-tenths.

Brazilian Grand Prix practice in pictures
Usually the silver cars can rely on their potent engine performance modes to increase their advantage in qualifying. But if the forecast rain arrives it could take that advantage away, putting them at a disadvantage for the race.

The rain which was expected to hit the track during practice today didn’t arrive, save for a few drops towards the end of the second session. It was a concern teams took seriously: Haas even swapped which session Antonio Giovinazzi would run in to ensure Kevin Magnussen wasn’t disadvantaged too greatly. But he ended up missing a dry second practice session which offered conditions which are likely to be more representative of what the teams will encounter on Sunday.

If qualifying is wet teams are going to face some interesting set-up questions. Sunday is expected to be dry and warm, so they will be unwilling to crank up the wing angles.

Red Bull has been, for want of a better word, bullish about its race pace of late. But both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were wary of the W08’s performance on Friday. “The long runs looked OK,” said Ricciardo, “but the Mercs looked really strong.”

Ricciardo, who hasn’t finished in the last two races because of technical problems, is already on the back foot heading into this race as he has a power unit change penalty. “I’d like some rain for qualifying tomorrow and I can try and fight for pole,” he said. “I know if I get it I won’t start there because of my penalty, but anyway it would be good to start 11th for the race. That’s my target.”

In an ordinary weekend Mercedes would expect to stick their car on pole position and keep the opposition at arm’s length in the race. But if Red Bull or Ferrari are able to take advantage of a wet qualifying session that might just be enough to dislodge the silver cars from their habitual front row positions and give us a close race.

Keep an eye on the performance of the McLarens too, especially if the rain arrives, as their recent front wing upgrade has bolstered their claim to having one of the most effective chassis on the grid. And, as yet, neither of their drivers has picked up a power unit penalty.

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 HamiltonMercedes1’09.2021’09.51578
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’09.3291’09.56388
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’09.8281’09.74375
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’09.7441’10.11777
5Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’09.7501’09.88669
6Sebastian VettelFerrari1’09.9841’09.87580
7Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes1’10.1021’10.37370
8Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’10.4541’10.30685
9Nico HulkenbergRenault1’11.6081’10.39674
10Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Honda1’10.4021’10.90264
11Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Honda1’10.4761’10.65555
12Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’10.6321’11.06486
13Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’11.4671’10.68574
14Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’10.69543
15George RussellForce India-Mercedes1’11.04729
16Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’11.1881’11.30068
17Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Renault1’14.0341’11.42249
18Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’11.46330
19Charles LeclercSauber-Ferrari1’11.80232
20Brendon HartleyToro Rosso-Renault1’11.82156
21Pascal WehrleinSauber-Ferrari1’11.85743
22Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’11.8981’11.98945
23Antonio GiovinazziHaas-Ferrari1’12.41737

2017 Brazilian 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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10 comments on “Wet qualifying may be the chance Mercedes’ rivals crave”

  1. I’m pretty sure the last time we had a wet qualifying session at monza Mercedes still got pole position. The Mercedes also looked pretty handy in wet conditions in Singapore as well.

    1. Singapore quali?
      5th & 6th!

      1. Quali there was dry

      2. @Egonovi Qualy was dry, race was wet.

    2. I think that its fair to say that Wet + Mercedes + Hamilton is very challenging to beat. Verstappen seems to be the only driver who can genuinely challenge Hamilton in the wet.

      Vettel’s recent performances in the wet haven’t been as strong. Hamilton used to eat Rosberg alive whenever it rained (his pass around the outside of Rosberg in Suzuka turn 1 was particularly memorable in the tragic race of 2014).

      1. (his pass around the outside of Rosberg in Suzuka turn 1 was particularly memorable in the tragic race of 2014

        Yes it was! And I agree with you about Verstappen. I would add that Ocon is pretty strong in the rain too (saw him on TV explaining that he trained a lot when it rained as a child when others kids would stay warm at home) – remember his race last year, although he doesn’t have the car to fight for the win.

    3. Monza yes, but Singapore its more like Hamilton magic. Bottas really struggling there. In Interlagos, I think wet qualy/race could make both Red Bulls challenges Hamilton and Bottas I expect to be left behind. I’m not sure if Ferrari could gain some advantage in wet though.

  2. The lap times graph doesn’t really tell the complete story. If you included Hamilton’s final 10 lap stint on the soft tires he was running at least on average 5 tenths quicker than his super-soft stint you have plotted.

    1. PhillySpur, and, in general, it looks like the very high track temperatures – reportedly well over 50ºC – meant that the supersoft tyres were suffering from blistering, suggesting that it might not be a particularly good race tyre. So far, the results suggest the soft tyre is a far better race tyre – so the gamble by Williams and Renault to take more of the supersoft tyres looks like a bit of a mistake.

  3. Because the Mercedes has proven to be so horrible in the wet…

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