Japanese Grand Prix 2017: Ferrari look strong in rain affected Friday practice
It was Ferrari who looked the strongest in the dry in Suzuka, but in the wet, count on Force India to make one mean sailboat!
First practice got underway under the threat of rain, and with this in mind, most of the runners were out early to get some dry running in, with all drivers out on track within five minutes. Mercedes started the day quickest on the soft tyres, with the Ferraris also running the yellow walled tyres early on. The Red Bulls on the other hand were keener to get some running in on the supersoft rubber, although early pace had them down on the leading Mercedes and Ferraris. McLaren appeared to be having issues with Alonso’s car, but managed to get the Spaniard out on track after about half an hour of the session had elapsed.
Daniel Ricciardo was the first non Mercedes to go quickest, but Mercedes were just about to show what they could do on the supersofts. Hamilton improved to go fastest again, but Bottas looked to be struggling again with his setup after sliding over the kerb at turn two. Sebastian Vettel then threw a spanner in the Mercedes works, going just 0.042s slower than Hamilton, but on the soft tyre, indicating that there is some serious pace in that Ferrari this weekend!
Max Verstappen almost had a big moment coming out of spoon, but it was Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso that ended up out of the session with just under 40 minutes to go. He was coming out of the hairpin at turn 11 and got out onto the kerbs, spinning the rear and smacking him into the wall at high speed, almost flipping the car. Fortunately Sainz was unhurt, but the session was red flagged to clear away his wrecked Toro Rosso.
While spectators enjoyed the unique sight of carbon fiber pieces being brushed away with brooms that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Hocus Pocus, the much promised rain began to fall, leaving many to wonder if we would see any more running as the clock ticked down. With 23 minutes of the session left, the green flag flew once again, and cars did indeed take to the track.
Ferrari went out on the supersofts for the first time, and Vettel predictably went fastest of all, going up on Hamilton by two tenths on his first attempt. He probably could have gone faster as well, with the rain starting to get heavier and Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber getting in his way slightly on his lap. This will no doubt give Hamilton and Mercedes a lot to think about before the weekend arrives.
A few drivers stayed out to gather more data, but with the rain intensity increasing that was it for the headline times, and the session ended with Vettel leading Hamilton, with Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Bottas and Verstappen rounding out the top six.
So about that rain…
For those tuning in at 6am in the UK, this was not the sight you wanted to see, or the news you wanted to hear. FP2 was delayed due to the torrential rain that was now battering the Suzuka Circuit.
That’s not to say there weren’t things to be entertained by, with the teams keeping themselves amused with origami boat races down the rivers that were forming in the pit lane (Stoffel Vandoorne in particular looked a dab hand at this). A small duck also got far too much airtime at this point, indicating that what we really needed was some cars on track!
As the paper boat arms race between the team was really hotted up, with Force India and Renault incorporating plastic bottle and inflatable banana tech into their designs, the announcement came through that the session would start at 14:45 local time, giving us 45 minutes of potential running.
The green flag saw Kimi Raikkonen first out, followed by Nico Hulkenberg in his Renault. The next few minutes saw Jolyon Palmer, Marcus Ericsson, and finally Sebastian Vettel all take to the track, followed by most of the field.
Most of these drivers however only did exploratory laps, so we only actually got five times on the board, with Lewis Hamilton leading the way with a leisurely 1:48.719s. This was to remain the best time of the day, with most of the teams electing not to send their drivers back out with the rain intensifying again. There were a few late runs from Fernando Alonso, and surprisingly, Hamilton again, but the session ended with only the five times set earlier. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can really extrapolate from this data!