Traffic, a red flag and persistent rain made Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix a tricky affair for the teams – and means final practice on Saturday takes on even more importance as everyone plays catch up. But there were a few things of note that help start to shape the picture for what kind of weekend we can expect at Albert Park.

    Red Bull lead the way in qualifying trim

    Friday data always needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – as we never know the fuel loads of bespoke programmes of each team – and you probably need a teaspoon to go without today’s number crunching given how disrupted the running was.

    Two-time world champion Max Verstappen said he struggled to get into a rhythm, the slippery conditions making it difficult to get a read for how the car felt across the compounds.

    His team mate Sergio Perez was similarly cautious about Red Bull’s efforts on Friday, though did admit that changes he made between the sessions were definitely a step forward.

    The data suggests the RB19 has a 0.14s advantage over the field in qualifying trim (there wasn’t enough consecutive laps of running to determine accurate long run data) and they remain favourites not only to lock out the front row but also seal a third successive one-two come Sunday.

    READ MORE: Verstappen says he has ‘studying to do’ despite leading FP1 as Perez describes ‘messy’ afternoon in Australia

    Qualifying simulation pace Friday 2023 Australian Grand Prix graph

    Ferrari appear stronger than expected

    Saudi Arabia was a chastening weekend for Ferrari and as Albert Park shares many similarities to the Jeddah Street Circuit and the team haven’t got any updates here, the Italian squad were understandably cautious with their expectations.

    However, Friday was a positive day with both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz emitting a sense of optimism after the two one-hour sessions, Leclerc saying they “explored quite a few set-up variations, which was interesting as it felt like we were going in a right direction”.

    They still don’t have the pace to tackle Red Bull, but the data does suggest they are the second fastest on qualifying pace, 0.14s clear of rivals Aston.

    Their race pace is unknown, as it is the case with their rivals given the limited running, but tyre degradation is not so much of an issue here compared to Jeddah – and as that has been the red car’s Achilles' heel so far this year, that bodes well for the Tifosi.

    READ MORE: Leclerc hails best Friday of the season for Ferrari at Albert Park as Sainz hopes to ‘play’ with Red Bull in qualifying

    Ideal lap chart FP2

    Aston Martin continue fine start to 2023

    Fernando Alonso was all smiles after Friday practice, the double world champion topping a very soggy FP2 session. That leading time is not representative, of course, but a car that’s quick in the wet has good downforce which means it is a force to be reckoned with in the dry.

    Neither Alonso or Lance Stroll managed a clean lap on fresh soft tyres and yet they are still third in the qualifying simulation pace rankings.

    Such is the confidence with their package, the team spent FP1 focusing on running test items before switching to weekend-focused learning in the afternoon, with Lance Stroll saying “the car was feeling good”.

    Alonso was on a mission at this track last year, the then Alpine-driver showing the kind of pace that made him a pole contender. Now behind the wheel of a car that is the second-best on pure pace, the Spaniard will fancy his chances of a second successive front row start.

    READ MORE: Alonso says Aston Martin would 'prefer dry conditions' despite topping the timesheets in rain-affected FP2 in Melbourne


    Mercedes targeting more damage limitation

    There were contrasting days for Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, as the Silver Arrows wound up fourth in our one-lap pace rankings.

    Hamilton made some changes after FP1 which didn’t quite work, meaning he’ll be looking to revert this evening. Russell, though, was happy with the changes he made which put the car “in a nice window”.

    READ MORE: Hamilton and Russell give verdict on where Mercedes can qualify after disrupted opening day in Melbourne

    While they don’t expect to be fighting the Red Bulls this weekend, if the early shoots of some reasonable long-run pace flourish, they should be pushing for a top-five finish with both cars at the very minimum.

    They have a decent advantage over the rest – Alpine are next best, 0.43s adrift in one-lap pace – so at the very least, they should comfortably be top-eight qualifiers. That’s well below their high targets but very much a fair reflection of their current form.

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