1. Mercedes returns to song as cold conditions help
Valtteri Bottas said ahead of this weekend that Mercedes are the hunters, not the hunters, although they arrived at Imola after a first and a third in the season opener Bahrain Grand Prix.
He is partly right because until this weekend the Red Bull RB16B was the fastest machine on the grid, both in qualifying and in the race.
READ MORE: FP2: Bottas fastest as Verstappen stops on track and Leclerc shunt is slow to stop second practice
But based on Friday’s race, it looks like Mercedes took a step forward this weekend, having brought a slew of new parts to the race that track chief Andrew Shovlin said performed as expected.
The W12 feels more comfortable on the narrow, wavy and bumpy old-school track, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas saying the balance seems to be in the right place already.
It was arguably their smoothest track day of racing this year, which is why they are feeling optimistic for this weekend. But they’re not getting ahead of themselves, not least because Red Bull had a tough opening day, and they were just 0.078 seconds ahead of the very impressive Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri.
READ MORE: Gasly draws praise from Hamilton after AlphaTauri enjoyed ‘one of our best Fridays’ at Imola
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of the Red Bulls yet,” said Hamilton, who finished the day just 0.010 seconds behind teammate Mercedes and Bottas. “Looks like they’ve had some pretty complicated sessions with traffic and that – so it will be interesting to see tomorrow how fast they are. “
Our ideal lap data, where a driver’s best mini-sectors are added together to create what would have been their fastest lap of the day, also shows that there is still a long way to go, with Hamilton leaving close to 0. , 6 seconds on the table. And the whole peloton is much closer, rather than the four in the race today.
2. Red Bull has yet to show its hand after a messy day
If Red Bull is to beat Mercedes this year, they have to have the wind in their sails and everything is going well for them. But this was not the case at Imola, as the first Sergio Perez collided with Esteban Ocon in the first practice, limiting his run, and then his teammate Max Verstappen suffered from a driveshaft problem after five laps, depriving him of the chance to make a soft tire low. – racing or fuel racing simulation.
But such is Verstappen’s confidence at the moment, he was completely unfazed by the setback, when we chatted after the session. He said it was “not a surprise”. Mercedes looked quick but added “we just need to focus on ourselves to do a better job and then we’ll see where we end up compared to them”.
And Checo also begins to find the treat of his new office. Sure, he suffered a setback in his clash with Ocon, but the Mexican told me after the session that he managed to catch up and believes he and the team know where they can gain more performances. Saturday.
READ MORE: Stewards take no further action on Ocon-Perez FP1 clash that triggers red flags in Imola
For now, however, his pace – and even that of Verstappen – is something unknown and so we’ll have to wait until final practice – and even qualifying – to find out if they are still ahead of the pack or if Mercedes really caught up. back them up and move forward.
READ MORE: Verstappen says Mercedes Imola’s pace is ‘not surprising’ as it reveals cause of FP2 failure
3. AlphaTauri the black horse as they glow on the domestic ground
AlphaTauri has a soft spot for Imola, which is located just 15 km down the road from their headquarters in Faenza.
The small Italian team have spent a lot of time at the venue, having done a lot of days of filming and racing with old cars on the track in recent years – so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at how they are strong, especially since they got 4th place in qualifying and the race last year.
GOOD LAP vs GREAT LAP: Come aboard with Pierre Gasly to see how to succeed in an Imola trick
Gasly was only 0.078 seconds off pace on Friday, having looked brilliantly fast on the soft tire, our data placing him fourth overall in qualifying simulation pace, 0.54 seconds off Mercedes pace and just a fraction behind Ferrari and Red. Bull, while their running pace seems pretty practical too, as the P4 retains that metric.
“We mostly tried to figure out how to run the tires in these unusually cold temperatures – focusing on how to maximize them on short runs and how to limit grain on long runs,” said the chief engineer of the Jonathan Eddolls race.
There are a lot of people talking very positively about the AT02 at Imola, with high profile sources at Ferrari suggesting that they will be a real threat to them here, and with a clean weekend, Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda could. well go home with a heavy load of points – and maybe even a podium.
4. Ferrari’s resurgence is gaining ground
Smiles are back at Ferrari this year, with the Scuderia making hay while things are going well and banishing memories of last year’s miserable campaign with a practical race car that lags behind and an engine that pulls more. growls.
Friday went smoothly apart from Charles Leclerc’s late kiss with Imola barriers, and as our data shows, their performance in qualifying and in the race looks good. They are P2 on the fuel-efficient, softer tires, although Red Bull is almost certainly ahead of them, but just didn’t race today, and P3 when they add fuel, 0 , 4 s per lap slower than Mercedes.
READ MORE: ‘Lots of positives’ for Ferrari despite crash at end of FP2, says Leclerc
How did they do it? “Everything is specific to the track and the temperature, because we haven’t changed cars at all, but the car feels much better in these conditions,” added Leclerc. “It feels good this weekend, even if we compare it to last year, if we compare it with, we feel a lot better, the balance is better, the grip is very good and I have enough confidence in the car, so looking forward to tomorrow.
5. McLaren out of color as drivers seek confidence
We’re so used to McLaren fighting for the head of the midfield that P8 (courtesy Lando Norris) on a timesheet is a disappointing result for them. Daniel Ricciardo had an even trickier day and finished 18th, 1.7 seconds off the pace.
Both drivers said they wanted more confidence with the car, Lando admitting that they are not as “confident as we were a few weeks ago” in Bahrain where they were by far the third best team.
READ MORE: McLaren puts Di Resta on hold if regular Mercedes reserves are not available
They are fifth overall in qualifying simulations, 1.06 seconds off the ultimate pace and far behind AlphaTauri – just over half a second. This gap is narrower on long races, with McLaren just over a quarter of a second per lap slower than its Italian rivals.
READ MORE: Imola is ‘amazing’ in a modern F1 car, says Alonso on return to Italian circuit
With the track limits strictly enforced at Imola – and over 30 lap times removed on Friday – getting a clean lap and a good grid position on a track where it’s notoriously difficult to overtake will be key.
And since Alpine, Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo are less than 0.4 seconds off the pace of qualifying, it could be the difference between entering Q3 and fighting to avoid a Q1 exit.