Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2022

Mercedes and McLaren gains raise prospect of closest qualifying yet – rain or shine

2022 British Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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At last year’s British Grand Prix, as part of the first-ever running of Formula 1’s new sprint race structure, drivers only got a single hour of practice on Friday before a second hour on Saturday morning.

In 2022, the British Grand Prix is not a sprint event (next weekend’s race in Austria will be). However, due to the rain falling at the worst possible time, teams effectively only enjoyed a single hour of practice again on Friday with the first practice session amounting to little more than a sodden shakedown.

Thankfully, teams managed to make up for lost time in the evening’s second practice session and it was an hour that provided plenty of intrigue for the rest of the weekend – especially towards the front of the field.

The only dry session of the day may not have seen any of the 20 drivers end up in the gravel or worse, but the wind and the jagged kerbs on the exit of the many fast corners around the Silverstone circuit did catch out many. Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly and Lewis Hamilton all ran off the circuit as they searched for grip around the blustery Buckinghamshire course.

At the end of the day, Ferrari and Carlos Sainz Jnr took the honours as the fastest on Friday, the driver topping an official practice session for the first time since the opening hour at the Miami Grand Prix in early May. Sainz’s 1’28.942 was almost half a second quicker than team mate Charles Leclerc, fifth, but despite being clearly ahead of Leclerc, Sainz remained cautious after what he described as “quite a challenging session.”

Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Silverstone, 2022
Sainz set the pace on Friday for Ferrari
“The wind made it tricky to get the right balance for the high-speed sections and the correct compromise for tyres in the low-speed ones,” said Sainz. “Overall we were quick, but it felt like there is margin to improve.”

Leclerc has held the clear advantage over his team mate at the vast majority of rounds so far this year, so it was unusual to see him unable to match Sainz’s pace even on a Friday. However, Leclerc explained that it had not been smooth sailing for him during the evening session, due to some power unit problems that disrupted his running.

“I don’t know if there were radio messages on the coverage but overall, just some power unit things that were making it very difficult to drive,” said Leclerc. “But it’s fine. I mean, it’s small set ups more than problems, so we will modify it for tomorrow.”

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Behind the leading Ferrari of Sainz was none other than Hamilton’s Mercedes. After introducing a major upgrade package in Spain that led to the team’s strongest performance of the season up to that point, Mercedes struggled heavily with two back-to-back street circuits in Monaco and Azerbaijan before having one of their best Sundays of the season in Canada last time out.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2022
Silverstone suits the Mercedes much more than recent venues
With yet more new parts affixed to the W13 for this weekend, Mercedes’ head of trackside engineering, Andrew Shovlin, saw plenty to be encouraged by after Friday with Hamilton second and team mate George Russell in eighth.

“We’ve still got a lot to improve but the car is working much better at this track than the last few street circuits,” said Shovlin.

“It’s really hard to evaluate whether the updates are doing exactly what we’d expect, especially in the windy conditions, but we’ve not seen anything worrying so we’ll continue with this specification for the rest of the weekend.

“Lewis put in a strong lap on the soft compound but we expect the fast teams to have plenty to come tomorrow so we need to work hard to iron out a few of the balance and bouncing issues. Lots of work to do overnight, but a reasonably encouraging start to the weekend.”

As rare as it is to see a Mercedes-powered car in the top three on a Friday in 2022, it’s especially rare to see two from different teams. But when Lando Norris switched to the soft tyres in the second half of the second session and jumped up to the top of the times sheets, his effort proved good enough to see him end the day third fastest.

This was despite some nervous moments for the driver when he was caught out by the wind through some of the quicker corners on the circuit. “It’s been a tricky day, just the wind conditions make it extremely difficult,” said Norris. “So as good as it looks, it’s still difficult to put things together and to be consistent and so on, especially in the long run.

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“I’m happy the car seems to be in a decent place at least, a little bit better than we were expecting. Whether that’s good or not, or whether that’s because we’ve turned it up more than the others, we don’t know. So as far as we know from ourselves, things are in a good area and we can find some more improvements into tomorrow.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2022
Verstappen looked well within himself as he went fourth-quickest
Red Bull’s relentless long-run pace in 2022 has helped to deliver championship leader Max Verstappen six victories already this season with an additional one for team mate Sergio Perez in Monaco. But after Verstappen and Perez could only manage fourth and seventh, respectively, in the only meaningful session of the day, Perez admitted that the team’s data did not correlate with what they had expected heading into the weekend.

“It wasn’t a great session today,” said Perez, “from the preparation I had on the simulator the car is miles off that.

“We suspect the issues are related to the aerodynamics, but I can’t go into too much detail until I see the data properly and then we need to understand the problems. It will be difficult to catch up, but we have done it before and as long as we are able to get things in the right place we should be good. Ferrari look strong and I hope we can match them tomorrow come qualifying.”

Qualifying could prove even more challenging if the anticipated rain on Saturday afternoon materialise, as many in the paddock fear it will, for the second race weekend in a row. “At the moment the weather looks quite bad for third practice,” said Fernando Alonso, “so it feels like that is going to be a challenging weekend. Tomorrow if it’s wet, let’s see if we get some rain in FP3 just in preparation for quali that could be wet as well.”

There is no clear consensus on which sessions will be rain affected on Saturday, with Verstappen confident that “it looks like it’s going to rain during qualifying,” while Daniel Ricciardo expects that third practice will be “pretty wet at this stage and then it might dry for qualifying.” Whatever the case, it’s likely that this could be one of the most competitive qualifying sessions so far in this still young new era of Formula 1.

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Combined practice times

PositionNumberDriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
155Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’42.9671’28.94236
244Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’42.7811’29.1050.16331
34Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesNo time1’29.1180.17633
41Max VerstappenRed BullNo time1’29.1490.20721
516Charles LeclercFerrari1’43.8011’29.4040.46232
614Fernando AlonsoAlpine-RenaultNo time1’29.6950.75320
711Sergio PerezRed BullNo time1’29.7530.81120
863George RussellMercedesNo time1’29.7990.85731
93Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-MercedesNo time1’29.9020.96030
1018Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’51.2431’29.9421.00022
1177Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’42.2491’30.0001.05838
125Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’59.1681’30.0571.11525
1331Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultNo time1’30.2381.29614
1423Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesNo time1’30.2631.32115
1524Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’46.1711’30.2711.32931
1622Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’51.3731’30.3381.39634
1720Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’48.1611’30.4801.53830
1810Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Red BullNo time1’30.5101.56831
1947Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’43.8951’30.6091.66732
206Nicholas LatifiWilliams-MercedesNo time1’31.3262.38428

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2022 British Grand Prix

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    Will Wood
    Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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    One comment on “Mercedes and McLaren gains raise prospect of closest qualifying yet – rain or shine”

    1. The field is incredibly close for a 90 second lap (apart from latifi who just plain does not belong). Talking of a new era, it’s encouraging to see such a convergence in performance.

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