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

Pos Driver Car FP1 FP2 Total laps
1 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’31.458 1’29.817 50
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’31.470 1’29.828 54
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’31.364 1’30.380 55
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’32.272 1’30.472 53
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1’30.745 34
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1’31.060 1’30.751 45
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’33.104 1’31.220 52
8 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1’32.779 1’31.232 64
9 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1’33.223 1’31.282 53
10 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1’33.364 1’31.422 60
11 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1’32.516 1’31.591 56
12 Carlos Sainz Jnr Renault 1’32.885 1’31.601 55
13 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1’33.794 1’31.809 54
14 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1’33.662 1’31.868 60
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’32.971 1’31.969 54
16 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1’33.278 1’32.372 57
17 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1’33.379 1’32.382 52
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1’33.467 1’32.474 66
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1’33.508 1’32.733 54
20 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1’33.497 1’32.908 65

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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