Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2018

Hamilton believes top three teams are “incredibly close”

2018 Bahrain Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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On Thursday Sebastian Vettel estimated Mercedes’ performance advantage is in the region of three to four tenths of a second.

But on Friday it was Ferrari who led the way, by half a second. So what is the true performance difference between them? And where do Red Bull fit into this?

Lewis Hamilton’s assessment of the situation is as follows: “It’s incredibly close between the three teams. Really close. It’s going to be a tough weekend.”

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix practice in pictures[/captionWe only got to see a fleeting and partial glimpse of the top teams’ pace on Friday but Hamilton’s assessment may be right. Particularly as Mercedes’ executive director Toto Wolff revealed Mercedes knew Ferrari had their engines turned up when they set their quickest times in second practice. Last year Mercedes didn’t head any of the practice sessions yet were ahead in all three stages of qualifying.

As the long-run pace data below shows there wasn’t much to choose between the two teams in their stint performance either. Red Bull seemed content to push their tyres harder.

But the rate of tyre degradation is likely to be a major factor at a track which is now considered the most punishing on tyres. How well teams can prolong the life of their rears will have a crucial bearing on their strategy options come Sunday.

This was one of few races last year where pitting twice was a viable strategy. This year the tyres are softer and the cars are faster, and Pirelli therefore suspects most teams will again lead towards pitting twice.

Behind the top three the midfield fights looks potentially closer than it was in Melbourne. Haas looked good in the heat of the first practice session, less so when the track cooled. This was consistent with what we saw of them in Australia, but even so expect both to be solid Q3 contenders on Sunday.

The most intriguing development on Friday was the performance shown by Toro Rosso. There will be dismay at McLaren if Pierre Gasly’s Honda-powered car repeats its second practice result in qualifying by out-pacing both the Renault-propelled MCL33s.

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
1Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’31.4581’29.81750
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’31.4701’29.82854
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’31.3641’30.38055
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’32.2721’30.47253
5Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’30.74534
6Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’31.0601’30.75145
7Nico HulkenbergRenault1’33.1041’31.22052
8Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Honda1’32.7791’31.23264
9Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Renault1’33.2231’31.28253
10Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Renault1’33.3641’31.42260
11Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’32.5161’31.59156
12Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’32.8851’31.60155
13Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’33.7941’31.80954
14Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’33.6621’31.86860
15Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’32.9711’31.96954
16Charles LeclercSauber-Ferrari1’33.2781’32.37257
17Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’33.3791’32.38252
18Sergey SirotkinWilliams-Mercedes1’33.4671’32.47466
19Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’33.5081’32.73354
20Brendon HartleyToro Rosso-Honda1’33.4971’32.90865

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 Bahrain 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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3 comments on “Hamilton believes top three teams are “incredibly close””

  1. I think they are too, with the Red Bull closer than in Melbourne. But inevitably come Q3 the Merc pulls away, and even with race pace being totally equal, starting position will mean that the Red Bull lags behind the Ferrari unless either RB driver puts in a killer lap. Now, you can overtake in Bahrein, but even with all three top teams being equal come race pace, there will be plenty of weekends where you can’t overtake. Looking forward to a frustrating season for Ricciardo and Verstappen on that front.

    1. RedBull drivers need killer app that could overclocks TAG spec.

  2. With Lewis getting a penalty, i wonder if he will do the Q2 run on Softs.
    Merc are happy with the yellow more than the red in terms of extracting maximum grip..at-least in Bahrain.
    For that matter, i think it would be a boon to qualify in the 11th-13th positions for tomorrow’s race. S//SS//SS could be the way to go.

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