Free Practice 2 for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix was certainly an interesting insight into the respective pace of the top teams on the three respective tyre compound choices – which all look to be viable race tyres this weekend.
Unlike previous rounds this season, the hardest of the three nominated tyres won’t be neglected this weekend because of Pirelli’s aggressive nominations. Pirelli’s Head of Car Racing, Mario Isola, admitted following the two ninety-minute practice sessions on Friday, “the soft compound appears to be an effective race tyre too.”
Unfortunately, however, not all of the teams were able to collect feasible data on the harder compounds because of the unpredictable Belgian weather. With half an hour still to run in the crucial second practice session, all teams were forced to stop their long runs due to the immediate onslaught of wet weather.
Rain means ultras dominate the timings
This meant that the minimal long run data the teams did collect was mainly on the ultrasoft tyre. From Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, only Kimi Raikkonen actually used the soft to complete a proper long run.
However, comparing the above ultrasoft averages, it’s patently clear that Sebastian Vettel has unlocked some pace. In his four laps, his average time was a whole seven tenths faster than that of his nearest rival Lewis Hamilton.
But then again, perhaps Mercedes is just too slow, as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was able to get within two tenths of Hamilton’s average and even set one faster lap during his long run.
That’s an alarming statistic, because with long straights dominating the first and third sectors, it was thought Spa would suit Mercedes, as Toto Wolff alluded to earlier in the week when he stated, “On paper, people will assume that Spa should suit our car because it is a circuit where aerodynamic efficiency is extremely important.”
But the lack of pace for Mercedes was at least consistent throughout the second free practice session; Hamilton’s first five laps of his long run were timed within just 0.225s of each other.
So, who’s got the advantage?
Ferrari’s Friday was extremely impressive. One of the key things to take from their performance was an expertly-executed split strategy with the rain inbound. Unlike their rivals, the Scuderia now have long run data for both the ultrasoft and soft tyres – which undeniably hands them an advantage over Mercedes.
Mercedes, on the other hand, have to get themselves together quickly. Toto Wolff admitted immediately after FP2 to Sky Sports reporter Ted Kravitz, “Vettel did an amazing long run, it was really faster than everybody else.”
Although both Mercedes drivers completed laps on the softs and supersofts, these were all at the start of the session, suggesting they were just general installation laps. Valtteri Bottas did manage to strap the supersoft tyre on just before the rain, but could only complete one proper hot lap, a 1:50.804.
Hamilton and Bottas had differing views of their respective Friday sessions. Despite less than a tenth separating their long run pace on the ultrasoft, Hamilton was extremely pleased with the session, calling it “one of our strongest Fridays so far”, whilst Bottas admitted “there is still a lot of margin to optimize the car.”
The one thing Mercedes can smile about was their one lap pace on the ultrasofts – Hamilton at least took home the fastest lap of the session within this category.
Vettel, who had impressed immensely on the long runs, struggled when it came to qualifying simulations; his best lap was only good enough for P5, almost half-a-second adrift of Hamilton’s blistering 1:44.753.
The Briton remains the only driver to delve into the 1:44s this weekend after his stunning qualifying simulation.
What this pace tells us is that, thus far, Mercedes should have an advantage in qualifying, and the extra engines modes should help them secure that.
However, come race day, this data also suggests Ferrari should have a major lead over the Mercedes – making the start and strategy two increasingly important elements of the race.
Which is the better advantage to have? Well, points are only handed out after you’ve won the race, not for succeeding in the one-lap competition we know as qualifying…
What do you think the Friday long run simulations tell us about this weekend’s race? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?