Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2019

Are Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull sandbagging? They all are

2019 Australian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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As usual in the first practice sessions for the new Formula 1 it was a case of sandbags at dawn.

“It’s only really when everybody pulls their pants down tomorrow in qualifying that you see where we’re at,” remarked Christian Horner in between practice sessions.

Accusations flew in various directions. Sebastian Vettel said Mercedes’ eight-tenths margin over their rivals in practice showed their public comments about how much quicker Ferrari had been in testing were “bullshit”.

But Daniel Ricciardo doesn’t think Ferrari’s pace was real either.

“Mercedes showed their hand, that was kind of expected” reckoned the home favourite. “They were quick but I still don’t think maybe Ferrari or some others have shown their [hands].”

Charles Leclerc said Ferrari’s curious loss of performance between first practice, when they were bang on Mercedes’ pace, and the season session, was down to blustery conditions at the Albert Park circuit.

“FP1 had been very positive, very happy about this,” he explained. “FP2 a bit less, bit more difficulties. The wind picked up and we seemed to struggle a bit more.

“But no panic, we’ll try to figure out what’s wrong and we already have some ideas and hopefully we can fix it for tomorrow.”

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Leclerc’s comments tally with Vettel’s remarks that he felt the balance of the Ferrari was as good as it had been in testing at times, but not always. Last year the team regularly did solid work finessing its set-up from Friday into Saturday thanks to the efforts of Daniil Kvyat and Antonio Giovinazzi in the simulator. Will new signing Pascal Wehrlein be able to work the same magic? (Fellow Ferrari simulator newcomer Brendon Hartley is on sportscar duty at Sebring.)

[mpuzweeler01]The likelihood is that all of the ‘big three’ teams were lapping further off their potential pace than their rivals. This is borne out by the lap time differences chart below, which shows they are much further off their 2018 pace at this track than any of the other teams. Besides Williams, who at this early stage appear on course for a repeat of their dreadful 2018 campaign.

“I don’t think we’ve seen all of the cards from any team,” admitted Valtteri Bottas. “We know how much we can improve for the qualifying, for the race. But we have no clue how much the others can.

“Ferrari were very strong in winter testing. I don’t think their speed has somehow disappeared. For sure they were testing something different.”

There’s been no indication yet that Renault, last year’s midfield champions, have made significant progress in closing on the front runners. Ricciardo was frustrated by a seat belt problem of all things on his first Friday practice outing for the team.

Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Albert Park, 2019
It wasn’t a great first day at home for Ricciardo in his Renault
“To be honest most of the day was a bit of a difficult day,” he admitted. “We got one lap in with the soft tyres at the end in FP2 which put us in a more competitive place. But the long run wasn’t that good either. So we were a bit up and down.

“There’s still quite a lot to learn I think with the car and still probably some ways to set it up, a few little tricks here and there. Nico [Hulkenberg] obviously has a bit more knowledge with that so I’ll just try to understand a bit of that direction as well and for now I’ll probably learn a few things from him and maybe as time goes on he’ll learn some things for me.

“But the car doesn’t look too bad for now. His long run looked better than mine and actually quite impressive so that’s positive.”

Or, as his boss put it: “Pants down on Saturday. That’s the first real benchmarking this year…”

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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 HamiltonMercedes1’23.5991’22.60059
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’23.8661’22.64863
3Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’23.7921’23.40055
4Pierre GaslyRed Bull-Honda1’24.9321’23.44254
5Sebastian VettelFerrari1’23.6371’23.47353
6Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’24.8161’23.57258
7Nico HulkenbergRenault1’25.0151’23.57448
8Daniel RicciardoRenault1’25.6341’23.64447
9Charles LeclercFerrari1’23.6731’23.75453
10Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’25.2241’23.81455
11Daniil KvyatToro Rosso-Honda1’24.8321’23.93366
12Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’24.9341’23.98851
13Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes1’25.2881’24.01164
14Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault1’25.2851’24.13345
15Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’25.1661’24.29360
16Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes1’25.4981’24.40155
17Alexander AlbonToro Rosso-Honda1’25.2301’24.67561
18Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault1’25.9661’24.73357
19George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’28.7401’26.45357
20Robert KubicaWilliams-Mercedes1’27.9141’26.65558

Teams’ progress compared to last year

2019 Australian 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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    25 comments on “Are Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull sandbagging? They all are”

    1. Absolutely agree. If we’ve seen the most from all teams then Alfa-Romeo and Renault are on terms with Ferrari, which I don’t believe is true.

      Just as you can’t read too much into testing (besides reliability), you can’t read too much into practice. The proof is in the qualifying when we see the first “balls to the wall” lap from each driver. I can’t wait; I think it’s going to be far closer than people were worried about after this morning.

      1. pulls their pants down

        “balls to the wall” lap

        @ben-n – the testosterone is rising, not just the tension!

        1. @phylyp – upon a little research, it seems that the phrase has nothing to do with testosterone!

          1. Well, not if you get too close to the wall and lose said spherical components anyway. After that testosterone is just a pleasant memory.

    2. Duncan Snowden
      15th March 2019, 18:32

      Yeah, Williams are just keeping their powder dry. That’s it.


      1. I suppose there is the faint possibility Williams are running with actual sandbags in the car…..

        1. Hilarious!

    3. Looking at that last chart, somehow I don’t think Williams are sandbagging.

      Or, as his boss put it: “Pants down on Saturday. That’s the first real benchmarking this year…”

      That’s former boss, isn’t it? :)

      1. The big unanswered question from all of this is: Are these British pants or American pants?
        And is it worth half a second on a Saturday?

      2. @phylyp Good question. Could be that both the Red Bull and Renault bosses want to continue with last season’s pants down competition.

        1. @david-br – LOL, at would definitely explain their behaviour!

        2. Might help Daniel get his harness comfortable.

    4. Sandbagging is during a race, this is simply not showing your hand.

      Why does nobody understand this around here? You can tell even vettel got caught up in it, you can tell “he mad”.

    5. Long runs by Verstappen and the use of only two sets of tyres prove RBR didn’t plan any fast laps…. the longs runs by Verstappen though are in a league of their own… could it other team didn’t put much efford dong long runs?

      1. Matn, it could also be because Red Bull rushed to introduce upgraded parts for this weekend, so those longer runs are likely to be for additional calibration and performance verification of those parts.

        1. I can see the reasons to why… but Verstappen was by far fastest in the long runs

      2. F1oSaurus (@)
        16th March 2019, 7:37

        To make that assessment, you know all the comparative fuel loads do you?

    6. Nice photo and pun (sandbags at dawn).

    7. Michael Janiec
      15th March 2019, 19:59

      Can someone explain why the run by Max in the graph seems so outlandishly quick?

    8. We see this at Melbourne every year so it’s no surprise.

      Qualifying will be the first true indicator and I suspect this year is going to be a bunch of surprises. I don’t expect all that much to change at the top but the midfield will be amazing. The way I see it our Dan could be anywhere between 6th and 18th.

      Bring it on.

    9. That long run from Hulkenberg looks serious! Also neat run by Giovinazzi, very costant lap times. I get the impression that the pecking order in the midfield is Renault, Alfa, Haas, Toro Rosso, Racing Point, McLaren. But VERY closely matched. I could only wish the 3 top teams to be that close.

    10. I dont think its a case of sandbagging but a natural progression of the weekend. Teams gradually get quicker and quicker through the weekend because of better understanding of their car, improving setup and more rubber laid down on track. Dont know why some people insist on ‘sandbagging’ so much.

      Now FP3 is expected to have laps quicker than FP2 and in qualifying quickest laptimes from teams. So its a natural progression of the weekend.

      Mercedes looks so far ahead of Ferrari and RBR could be due to several possible reasons like they tried qualifying low fuel runs, ran higher engine modes, found the right setup earlier than them, drivers felt good pushing their car on low fuel and gave it a go…etc.
      Whereas we could clearly see Ferrari was struggling with setup especially FP2 where Vettel and Charles had many offs and even a spin near the end of the session. And that explains the gap to Mercedes. I fully expect Ferrari to be very close to Mercedes come qualifying and race as they would have improved their setup overnight. No way Ferrari and RBR are only a tenth ahead of Alfa Romeo and Renault so more to come from Ferrari and RBR and less so from Mercedes as the later are already at a very high level.
      To me it all makes sense and i dont see ‘sandbags’ as the only logical explanation which some people insist on when they dont understand the situation.

    11. The Mercedes chassis appears to have an issue– there’s speed to be had, but it’s at the cost of a very stiffly sprung chassis, and the drivers apparently having to drive at the limit to get that pace.

      Ferrari, on the other hand, appears much easier to drive, but may not be getting that last couple of percentage points out of the chassis.

      Then again, Hamilton sailed into the grand prix from pole last year, and was completely undone by Haas’s nuts.

      Personally, if I were an F1 driver, I think I’d take the Ferrari over the Mercedes for now– But once Mercedes irons out the problems they have, it’s gonna be tough on the Tifosi.

      1. So.. would you say they “ironed out the problems”? . Looks like most predictions were a ways off… Hamilton torching the field(and Bottas) once again

    Comments are closed.