Everyone is obsessed with the fastest time in FP2, but there are a number of factors which will affect who gets pole position and who has the race pace advantage.
Friday practice in Shanghai 2018, was a chilly affair, however the expected downpour held off until almost the end of FP2. Given the washout that was Friday in 2017, there is little data to compare year on year in an effort to understand how the teams are shaping up for this year’s qualifying and the race.
What we did see in FP2 was Mercedes quickest – an improvement on all sessions in Bahrain last week – with Lewis Hamilton topping the time sheets. His qualifying simulation on the ultra-soft tyres saw him post a best of 1m33.482s, just 0.007s faster than Ferrari’s Raikkonen, but the Finn was held up by Ericssonin sector 2, losing 0.125s to Hamilton.
Lewis’ team mate Valterri Bottas was 0.027 further back.
The expectation coming into the weekend was that Mercedes dominance in qualifying should return, though today’s numbers make that less certain and once again Kimi appears to be out of the blocks on Friday quicker than Sebastian Vettel.
The big question was how the world champion’s fare on race pace would.
Long run pace on the ultra soft tyres again suggests we’re in for a dramatic race on Sunday. Hamilton averaged a lap time of 1:39.14 whilst Bottas and Raikkonen were equal averaging 1:39.17.
Quickest was Verstappen on the same simulation, over 10 laps averaging 1:39.09.
The soft tyre simulation was less conclusive. Hamilton fared better than when on the ultra-soft with a 5 lap average of 1:38.67, confirming Mercedes preference for the harder tyres.
Verstappen, Vettel and Raikkonen failed to post long enough runs for any proper conclusions to be drawn. Vettel and Ricciardo in general were not on par with the pace of the rest of the top dogs.
Yet we’ve seen this from ferrari’s quadruple world champion both in Australia and Bahrain. The German has been struggling with the car on Friday, only to come good later in the weekend.
Vettel commented following FP2: “It is difficult to find the sweet spot but if you do then you can unleash the pace. “I think the car has the pace but we need to make sure we get it to work. Today was mixed, in the afternoon I was a bit happier but hopefully tomorrow I am very happy.”
However, the temperatures were favourable for Mercedes and should the days get warmer – as expected – this may again reveal Mercedes Achilles heel of incremental thermal degradation over longer runs and the competition’s capabilities. If so the team may rue their tyre mix choice for Shanghai and wish they had another set of medium tyres for Lewis come Sunday.
It appears we are set for some thrilling qualifying and fascinating race strategy all of which will depend on whom makes it into Turn 1 first come lights out Sunday.
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Interesting. No one I’ve read, and that’s 3 or 4 pundits who have analyzed race pace on the ultra softs, has Verstappan as quickest.