Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2018

Ferrari and Mercedes holding back but rain is set to shape round one

2018 Australian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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The headline times after the first day of practice at Albert Park gave some encouraging signs about how close the first race of the year could be.

We’re unlikely to get a full picture on Saturday, however, as the chance of rain is very high. According to Pirelli sporting director Mario Isola, the forecasters rate the probability of rain on Saturday at “100%”. More rain is possible on race day.

At any rate the likelihood is the top teams haven’t truly shown their hand yet. Lewis Hamilton set the pace today but was slower than he was in the same session 12 months earlier. He was 1.7s off his 2017 pole position time and Ferrari is shy of its 2017 pace by the same amount.

Red Bull, who lapped half a second off their 2017 pace, is wary of how much their rivals can turn their engines up for qualifying and this is a reminder why. And, of course, why Max Verstappen is so eager for rain on Saturday.

Charles Leclerc, Sauber, Albert Park, 2018
Australian Grand Prix practice in pictures
One team, however, has already shown better pace in this event than it did 12 months ago. And it isn’t Haas, whose best-of-the-rest performance in Q2 got the paddock talking. Fernando Alonso’s 1’25.200 in his McLaren was 0.225s quicker than his qualifying time from last year.

This also means Renault are being out-paced by both their customer teams at present. Nico Hulkenberg is confident they can make gains on Saturday, however. “Both mine and Carlos [Sainz Jnr’s] runs were not ideal on the ultra-softs so we’ll see how tomorrow goes,” he explained.

Hulkenberg also explained why the resurfacing at the Circuit de Catalunya had made it harder than usual for teams to translate their testing performance to the first race weekend of the year. It’s quite different here, the Tarmac, also the bumpiness,” he said. “This track is now so much more ride-demanding than Barcelona, which is now probably the smoothest circuit on the calendar.”

In normal conditions, then, Renault could be Q3 contenders too. But with a midfield this close and a wet qualifying session in prospect, all bets are off. After all just seven-tenths of a second covered 18th (Q1 exit humiliation) to eighth (comfortable spot in Q3).

If the weather dries up on Sunday the drivers will find the track rather different to the warm, increasingly grippy one they enjoyed today. Cooler, slipperier conditions could introduce the possibility of graining.

Pirelli found degradation on its tyres to be low, edging teams towards one-stop strategies. But the performance differences between the compounds haven’t turned out as expected, which could leave some room for strategic variation.

A performance gap of up to half asecond was expected between the softs and super-softs, and super-softs and ultra-softs. Instead the softest tyres are up to 0.7s quicker than the super-softs, which in turn are only around 0.3s quicker than the softs. The key may be that the latter will prove harder to warm-up in the cooler conditions expected on Sunday.

Whatever the weather does, the field looks close, which is the first sign we’re in for an exciting year. A drop of rain on Saturday will only add to the intrigue.

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

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’24.0261’23.93162
2Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’24.7711’24.05860
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’24.5771’24.15963
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’24.8751’24.21462
5Sebastian VettelFerrari1’24.9951’24.45160
6Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’25.7301’24.64858
7Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’25.0631’24.72153
8Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Renault1’25.8961’25.20044
9Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’27.0351’25.24643
10Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Renault1’26.4821’25.28548
11Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’25.9221’25.39058
12Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’26.7671’25.41356
13Nico HulkenbergRenault1’26.5831’25.46360
14Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’26.6361’25.54362
15Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’26.6051’25.88863
16Brendon HartleyToro Rosso-Honda1’27.7451’25.92557
17Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Honda1’26.4941’25.94564
18Sergey SirotkinWilliams-Mercedes1’26.5361’25.97462
19Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’27.9641’26.81459
20Charles LeclercSauber-Ferrari1’28.8531’26.81563

Enter your 2018 Australian Grand Prix predictions

Predict the top five and the pole sitter to win some great F1 prizes:

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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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5 comments on “Ferrari and Mercedes holding back but rain is set to shape round one”

  1. I wanted to remark on how happy I am that Martin Brundle is allowed to take a camera-man with him on his track walkabouts. If you are not a subscriber to Sky F1, I am probably not making much sense, although you may notice that your Broadcaster, has more freedom in using extra cameras.

    One thing I would say to Martin, is that while you are not that remarkably unpleasant to look at, it’s really a show about the cars; perhaps you could confine the vanity shots to 10 or 15 seconds at the beginning and end of each segment. In a similar vein, your camera man needs a pole to get the camera above the fencing.

    It looked like this loosening of control, over the feed reaching the audience during officially timed sessions might also extend to Ted Kravitz in the pit-lane. It will be far more interesting to see what Ted sees, when it’s all kicking-off in the garages.

    1. I kinda like the camera being where it is & looking through the fence.

      You get to see things from a “general admission” point of view that we punters see. I thought it was great.

    2. Wholeheartedly agree

  2. I noticed this although the idea is probably not to focus on the cars as tv main cameras do that but instead just to see the angles he is looking at. Pit lane could be interesting but leave Ted on mute or replace him with someone that knows what they are talking about who is clear and concise, he really is the pit lane idiot.

  3. Thanks for the summary. Properly excited now..

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