Ferrari Edge Out Mercedes, but Just
The wait was over, the F1 season resumed, and after two one and a half-hour practice sessions on Friday, there’s little to choose between Mercedes and Ferrari, the two title construction championship contenders. F1’s top three teams were separated by just a second when the chequered flag fell after FP2 - nothing changed.
The driver championship leader, Lewis Hamilton had a good outing; but in qualifying trim, he had tyre-warming issues and had a couple of lockups, particularly in the super soft compound. He briefly topped the timing sheet, running on medium displacing Kimi, before the Finn bolted in the super softs to reclaim the position. Hamilton’s teammate Bottas, whose weekend already compromised with a grid penalty for a new engine and other components, had a strong outing - finishing 5th in FP1 (medium compound) and 3rd in FP2 (super soft).
Honors were shared in the scarlet red Ferrari garage, with Vettel leading the way in FP1 (first time in this season) and Kimi in FP2. Vettel laid his FP1 marker in an evolving circuit but had a scrappy run during his qualifying trim in FP2. His race simulation run, particularly on mediums looked good. His side of the garage has a lot of work to do on setup. Kimi, the four-time winner, almost had a smooth outing; right from his installation lap in FP1, the Finn looked in his elements, throwing the car in every corner. Will the Finn claim his first F1 win in more than five years? We reckon this is his best chance to do so.
Red Bull Racing Team seem to be enjoying an upgraded fuel from its engine supplier, ExxonMobil; along with a slender rear wing to minimize its straight-line speed deficit. The gap, though, will widen when both Mercedes and Ferrari turn up the engines in Q2 and Q3. Daniel Ricciardo had limited outing in FP1, and Max was just about keeping up to the front-runners.
F1’s new team (pun intended), Racing Point Force India impressed, with both the cars finishing in top 10. Haas would have been disappointed though, with the lead car was just 12th in both sessions. Sauber impressed once again with both cars making it into top 10 in FP2. Must be a satisfying outing for Marcus Ericsson, as the Swede’s drive is under threat for 2019 with Giovinazzi tipped to replace him.
Another driver under pressure is Stoffel. The Belgian had wretched FP 1 & 2 again, primarily due to car issues (hydraulic & brake woes). Lando Norris, taking Fernando Alonso’s car in FP1, did impress. How long will the Belgian hold on to his seat at McLaren? The coming week(s) will tell.
The F2 qualifying, which followed the FP2, saw the stewards deleting timings set by drivers for exceeding track limits through Raidillon, which were plenty during FP1 and FP2. How F1 stewards will deal with it during the qualifying session on Saturday will be another interesting point. Of course, the fickle weather of Spa may well have the last laugh – fingers crossed!