Friday Pace Analysis: Why things are looking better for Ferrari at their 1000th GP
The sound of 20 V6 turbo-hybrid power units punctuated the silence of the idyllic Tuscan Hills on Friday, as Formula 1 made its race weekend debut at fast and furious Mugello. Mercedes set the pace, in Ferrari’s backyard, but the data suggests the Silver Arrows may not have it all their own way this weekend…
“This track is mad! I bloody love it,” tweeted George Russell after opening free practice on Friday. He wasn’t alone, the drivers united in their love for the undulating 5.2km circuit that features only medium and high-speed corners. If there was a track built for F1 cars, this Italian delight is it.
It’s among the fastest tracks on the calendar, with the high-speed right-hand corners – named Arrabbiata 1 and Arrabbiata 2 – flat-out for some. Valtteri Bottas was the closest to the sweet spot on Friday, the Finn ruthlessly efficient across both sessions to set a strong pace.
And perhaps ominously for his rivals, he feels “there’s still quite a bit of lap time to unlock”. When our data team crunched the numbers, Mercedes were a stunning 0.7s clear of the chasing pack on a track there is still relatively green and will ramp up as the weekend goes on with more rubber going down.
Red Bull’s pace, particularly Max Verstappen’s, was very encouraging after a disappointing performance in Monza. The Dutchman was the biggest threat to the Silver Arrows and was “pretty pleased” with how the car was behaving. In his view, the team is “not too far off Mercedes”.
Sergio Perez may have received some bad news earlier this week, with his services no longer required at Racing Point next year – but that didn’t seem to impact his on-track speed. The Mexican has long had the upper hand over team mate Lance Stroll, and that continued at Mugello.
Perez ended up seventh in the pecking order, but our data shows his pink car is in fact the third quickest on pure pace, suggesting he’s very much in the hunt for a spot on the third row of the grid at the very least, which would see him within shooting distance of a first podium of the year – though he’ll have a one-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race after colliding with Kimi Raikkonen in FP2.
Behind Racing Point, it’s nip-and-tuck between Renault, AlphaTauri and Ferrari, the latter of course celebrating their 1,000th Grand Prix on home soil. Both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, keen to impress the first fans in grandstands at F1 in 2020, struggled with the balance, with Vettel admitting it’s going to be a “fight” to improve the car.
But the outlook is far more encouraging here, with the duo showing the kind of pace that should easily see them get through Q1. Getting into the top-10 shoot-out, though, might be a bit of a stretch.
Pirelli arrived at Mugello with the hardest compounds in their range, as they expected tyre wear to be relatively high over long runs, with high degradation on the soft – and this proved to be the case. With the weather expected to stay warm, and perhaps get warmer, there is the potential for thermal degradation to be intensified.
Unfortunately, the red flag brought out when Perez clipped Raikkonen into the first corner disrupted everyone’s long run data gathering. From what we could collect, our numbers show Mercedes once again lead the way, but enticingly, they have Red Bull nipping at their heels just 0.1s/lap adrift.
The RB16 is renowned for being good on its tyres and Verstappen said he actually “expected it to be worse” in terms of degradation, “so let’s see how they hold up over the rest of the weekend”. Based on Friday’s numbers, it seems Mercedes and Red Bull have the speed to run away at the front, with Racing Point a further 0.6s/lap further back.
Ferrari are an encouraging fourth in this ranking, ahead of a tightly-packed midfield of AlphaTauri, Renault and McLaren, the trio left to scrap over the final points-paying positions. Williams showed some impressive pace on the longer runs, matching the Alfa Romeos and clear of Haas. However, the Americans’ data is slightly skewed by the fact Kevin Magnussen was unable to do a long-run because of the red flag.
Having a new track on the calendar has got everyone excited and given the teams an extra challenge. Usually, they arrive at a track with heaps of data from years gone by. They don’t have that luxury for the Tuscan Grand Prix, which meant the early laps in FP1 were spent gathering data for software and getting the car dialled in, while allowing the drivers to get comfortable with the new circuit.
Friday’s track was very green, which means there is expected to be a lot of track evolution over the coming days, which should help some of the drivers who complained of lacking grip on Friday.
There was a slightly bigger time gap between the medium and soft compound tyres than Pirelli had anticipated, around 0.9s, which will give the teams some thinking to do with regards qualifying and race strategy. The hot weather is sure to play a part, too, with those cars that are kinder on their tyres – such as Red Bull – likely to benefit, particularly on Sunday.
Mugello is a reasonably narrow track and combined with no low-speed corners, overtaking will be extremely difficult. That means qualifying will be even more important that usual. Strategy, too, will be key, as drivers will not want to lose track position, and will therefore aim to keep stops to a minimum.
However, if the warm weather leads to higher degradation, they may be forced into a two-stopper anyway. Plenty, then, to be excited about – both for qualifying, which will be mighty quick, and the race. Bring on the Tuscan Grand Prix.