Teams look close on pace but will that make for a good race?

2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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The Friday practice pattern at Yas Marina is well-recognised: Ignore the times from the first practice session because it’s the cooler second session which matters.

This rings especially true this year as the first session on Friday was slightly hotter than usual. Track temperatures were up at 43C, and dropped by over 11C by the time second practice began.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix practice in pictures
Sure enough, the teams evidently used the first 90 minutes of running as an early 2018 season test session. That much was clear when Kimi Raikkonen took to the track with an enormous apparatus on his Ferrari. What Mercedes were up to was less obvious, though Valtteri Bottas admitted the first session was all about next year rather than the next race.

Once the sun had gone down and the ultra-soft tyres had come out in second practice the result was encouraging for those hoping to see a close race. The top three teams were separated by three-tenths of a second.

But this is a track where Mercedes’ ability to crank up its engine performance tends to bring greater rewards in qualifying. Last year they were only ahead by two-tenths on Friday, but that margin swelled to eight-tenths on Sunday. Mercedes don’t have to worry as much about trimming their cars out for speed on Yas Marina’s two long straights.

The usual one-stop strategy is likely to be the teams’ preferred approach. Whether anyone can get close enough to Mercedes to threaten them with the ‘undercut’ could be they key to the race. Splitting on the grid would be a useful start – something which looks a possibility given Bottas’ inability to match Hamilton’s pace so far.

Force India are solidly in the ‘best of the rest’ slot but behind them Renault appear to have found some pace. “We do look quite competitive,” Nico Hulkenberg admitted. “I would say there is not much between us and the Force Indias and McLaren.” They should be in contention for Q3, but reliability in the race has to be a concern for all Renault-engined runners given their recent problems.

But if the front-running teams appear to be a good match on race pace, will that translate into an exciting grand prix? Yas Marina has struggled to produce good races even when there’s a championship hanging in the balance. Lewis Hamilton’s go-slow tactics last year graphically illustrated how difficult overtaking is even when one driver deliberately backs off.

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

Pos Driver Car FP1 FP2 Total laps
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’39.126 1’37.877 63
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’39.006 1’38.026 58
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1’40.773 1’38.180 62
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’39.518 1’38.352 57
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’39.741 1’38.537 62
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1’39.154 1’38.894 48
7 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1’40.293 1’39.323 56
8 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1’39.333 36
9 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’41.864 1’39.529 67
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1’40.522 1’39.559 47
11 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1’40.723 1’39.635 62
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda 1’40.569 1’39.671 45
13 Carlos Sainz Jnr Renault 1’41.748 1’40.201 61
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1’41.581 1’40.329 56
15 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Renault 1’41.646 1’40.694 67
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’41.128 31
17 George Russell Force India-Mercedes 1’41.131 26
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber-Ferrari 1’41.752 1’41.270 68
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1’42.344 1’41.302 67
20 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1’41.306 1’41.560 35
21 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Renault 1’42.585 1’41.496 74
22 Antonio Giovinazzi Haas-Ferrari 1’42.065 21

2017 Abu Dhabi 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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2 comments on “Teams look close on pace but will that make for a good race?”

  1. It might be a race where the “two categories” of the grid,are really close. The top 3 teams are super close,with Mercedes having a power advantage in the first 2 sectors,RBR being super quick in Sector 3 & Ferrari having the best tyre usage of all.

    The good thing is that midfield is extremely close as well. The battle between F.I-Renault-McLaren is very close & we can easily put Massa in that mix.I would like to see 4 different cars in Q3,to have a variety at the finale ;)
    Unfortunately the midfield battle would have been ages better if Renault & McLaren were better(& more reliable) the whole season.

    1. At first glance the S2 seems to favor merc but the slow 7-8-9 turns can legitimately put ferrari in the game. The last sector the chassis’ll do the job so qualy’s gonna be fun..

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