Lewis Hamilton maintains his half-second advantage at the Australian Grand Prix.
A spin, red flag, gearbox failure and drivers running wide. Formula One, 2017 edition has not taken long before the limits are being tested. Yet the battle at the top continues to wait as Hamilton narrowly misses out on a track record while Red Bull and Ferrari wait in the wings.
In the first practice session of the 2017 season, Hamilton fought off the challenge of Bottas and Red Bull to top the first FP1 table by half a second. With his flying lap already raising the question of how soon will the Australian Grand Prix track record be bettered?
The intention of the new regulations was to bring the speeds of races up and challenge the drivers more after years of claims that they were becoming too easy to drive. And while the impact on racing is yet to be tested, the speed aspect is being ticked off as quickly as it can.
For while it is not expected that any of the teams are yet to push to the max, Hamilton on the softs was able to lap in the low 1:25s. A time only bettered by Bottas and Raikkonen on supersoft tyres. Even when Vettel put his Ferrari clear of Lewis’ time, too, the gap remained just a tenth of a second.
The same could not be said when ultrasofts were fitted.
With the softest compound Pirelli offer, Hamilton eventually found a clear piece of track to get his qualifying sim underway. Chaining the sectors together to be the first, and only, driver to dip into the 1:23s. The minute that the current track record resides in – when Vettel, in Q3 for the 2011 Australian GP, posted a 1:23.529.
Vettel, for now at least, was only able to get within half a second of Hamilton’s benchmark. With Ferrari still looking like they are holding something back.
Red Bull, on the other hand, appeared to struggle with the ultrasoft tyres in FP2. Looking more unstable on the softest rubber, forcing Verstappen to control a gravel drift as he ran extensively wide through turn 12.
FP2 also proved tough going for Haas as Kevin Magnussen was often garage bound with a recurrent water temperature issue.
Magnussen’s former Renault team-mate also sat out a majority of the session, after Jolyon Palmer become the first man to instigate a red flag following a spin at the final corner.
As Jolyon turned into the final corner, the rear of his Renault snapped. Sending him viscously rearward into the barrier before coming to a rest facing back towards the final corner. Damaging both ends of his car and requiring a recovery vehicle to move his Renault, Jolyon now faces a gearbox change going into the weekend.
Felipe Massa may also require a gearbox change after he was forced to park at turn 10. The now un-retired Brazilian had reported a gearbox issue moments before parking his Williams. But with no short term fix to his false neutral, his session was over.
Lance Stroll in the other Williams was also in communication with his engineers regarding his gear changes. With the team asking the rookie not to use the clutch during gear changes.
Lance, however, replied to say he had not been using the clutch. But rather a bump on the streets may have caused his knee to hit the clutch paddle. Just one of the issues of being a tall driver in a tightly packed cockpit.
One man that seemed as if getting in the cockpit for FP2 may be a tall order was Fernando Alonso – with his McLaren up on stands in the team’s garage at the start of running. Alonso, though, was able to get out on track and run amidst the midfield.
The session came to a slightly abrupt end when a Virtual Safety Car was activated for Marcus Ericsson. The Sauber driver found himself beached in the gravel after the rear of his Sauber snapped on turn-in.
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||TAG||27||1’24.650||1.03|
|6||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||TAG||8||1’25.013||1.393|
|7||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||Renault||34||1’25.084||1.464|
|10||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||Renault||39||1’25.493||1.873|
|11||Sergio Perez||Force India||Mercedes||35||1’25.591||1.971|
|13||Esteban Ocon||Force India||Mercedes||37||1’26.145||2.525|