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Friday analysis - Ferrari pace gives Mercedes pause for thought

19 Jun 2015

Low temperatures and a ‘green’ track surface meant that grip was at a premium on the first day of running in Spielberg, with off-track moments aplenty as a result. When the dust settled it was Ferrari who held a slender advantage over last year’s victors Mercedes. We take a team-by-team look at proceedings…

Sebastian Vettel, 1m 15.684s, P20/1m 09.600s, P1
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 11.028s, P3/1m 09.860s, P3

Ferrari ended the day feeling very chipper, as for the first time all of their recent aerodynamic and engine upgrades all started to work in harmony as they were able to challenge Mercedes on genuine pace. But tempering that were two gearbox issues for Vettel. The first was of undisclosed nature, while the second was a sensor that put the system into alert mode. He said he needs a flawless weekend to beat the Silver Arrows, so it will be interesting to see whether the lost track time ultimately proves a handicap. Raikkonen meanwhile looked stronger on the soft tyre, but struggled more on the supersoft and destroyed a set with a massive lock-up into Turn 1.

Nico Rosberg, 1m 10.401s, P1/m 09.611s, P2
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 10.709s, P2/1m 10.137s, P5

Mercedes had an interesting day. Rosberg was generally their pacesetter as Hamilton had a scrappy time and was never able to do a full lap on the supersofts after being fastest on the softs in FP2. The nature of the track has closed the gaps between the cars, but the signs are that Ferrari have taken a step forward. Tomorrow will reveal whether this is genuine, or because Mercedes were battling for grip today.

Pastor Maldonado, 1m 12.004, P12/1m 09.914s, P4
Romain Grosjean (pm only), 1m 10.267s, P5
Jolyon Palmer (am only) 1m 12.050s, P14

Lotus had an upbeat day, with plenty of straight-line speed and some decent lap times from all three drivers. Palmer matched Maldonado in FP1 and would have beaten him had he not had a big lock-up into Turn 1 on his final run, and then the Venezuelan was very quick in FP2 as Grosjean got working to set his car up the way he likes. There’s a strong mood of optimism in the Enstone-squad heading into Saturday.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 12.031s, P13/1m 10.160s, P6
Sergio Perez, 1m 11.905s, P10/1m 10.585s, P10

Fresh from victory at Le Mans, Hulkenberg had a strong day in the Force India. Perez was less settled, and often explored the run-offs whenever he pushed too hard. Despite having the favoured Mercedes power unit at their disposal, both drivers are well aware that one or two tenths can mean a difference of three or four places in qualifying tomorrow, so they are keen to hone their setups further in FP3.

Toro Rosso
Max Verstappen, 1m 11.825s, P8/1m 10.356s, P8
Carlos Sainz, 1m 11.948s, P11/1m 10.631s, P11

Both drivers complained bitterly of oversteer, saying that it made the STR10 almost undriveable, yet the heavily upgraded cars showed good pace from the off. However, the team were slightly concerned by the amount of graining on the supersoft rubber.

Felipe Nasr, 1m 11.633s, P5/1m 10.495s, P9
Marcus Ericsson, 1m 12.159s, P15/1m 10.744s, P13

Both drivers had productive days, and were much more optimistic of midfield competitiveness than they had been in Montreal, even though the circuits aren’t that dissimilar. Nasr in particular said he had a better feeling on the brakes than he did in Canada.

Red Bull
Daniil Kvyat, 1m 11.724s, P7/1m 10.686s, P12
Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 11.642s, P6/1m 11.676s, P17

At first Red Bull said they were going to change engines in both cars, but by the end of a troubled day it was decided that only Ricciardo, in a new chassis, would have a fifth engine and therefore a 10-place grid penalty. Like everyone else, both drivers struggled for grip, with Ricciardo blaming the problem on a lack of tyre temperature.

Valtteri Bottas, 1m 11.452s, P4/1m 10.746s, P14
Felipe Massa, 1m 11.890s, P9/1m 11.011s, P15

Williams didn’t show their hand in terms of lap time today as they pursued a cautious approach, but tech chief Pat Symonds said all of the upgrades they brought here performed exactly as predicted. Both Bottas and Massa looked very competitive over long runs, so watch out for a big improvement on Saturday.

Fernando Alonso, 1m 13.272s, P17/1m 11.517s, P16
Jenson Button, 1m 12.920s, P16/1m 11.919s, P18

McLaren had yet another tough day, as Alonso’s car cut out after a lap in FP1 due to a problem with a connection in the wiring harness and didn’t get going again until the final 15 minutes. In the afternoon he ran longer, with the latest aero upgrade which includes a shorter nose, but a gearshift problem prevented him assessing it fully on the supersofts. Button, running without the new package, lost engine power in the afternoon due to an ignition problem, and he didn’t run the supersofts in anger, either. With a 20-place grid penalty hanging over him for an engine change, Alonso says they will be treating the rest of the weekend more as a prolonged test.

Will Stevens, 1m 13.937s, P18/1m 12.522s, P19
Roberto Merhi, 1m 15.459s, P19/1m 13.094s, P20

Stevens had another straightforward Friday, but Merhi lost some valuable track time in the morning when his car developed a turbo problem. The Spaniard then got caught out at Turn 3 in FP2, engulfing his sidepods with gravel.