With the first two practice sessions for the 2013 F1 season out of the way, the order of the grid is becoming more clear. It is apparent that Red Bull haven’t lost much track over the winter, topping both FP1 and FP2, although Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes are showing interesting flashes of pace.
However, the big news is over at McLaren, who have suffered a shocking start to their 2013 campaign. Over 2 seconds slower by the end of second practice, team principal Martin Whitmarsh called it “one of the hardest days” he’d done in the team.
Let’s have a look at what happened this morning:
A traditionally slow start heralded the beginning of the 2013 season, as teams were hardly eager to start testing on a “green” surface. Daniel Ricciardo set the first proper lap with half an hour completed, which got the ball rolling nicely for the rest of the drivers.
Kimi Raikkonen led much of the early running, setting a 1:27.8 to comfortably move ahead at the front.
As the frontline teams moved out of the garage, it became clear that Mercedes had made progress over the winter, with both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg setting threatening times. The Ferraris were showing decent pace, with both drivers lapping at the top on the medium tyres.
When Sebastian Vettel left the pits, he made an impact within several laps, going fastest at only his second attempt. Felipe Massa tried to re-take the top spot soon after, but a mistake at Turn 5 – like many other drivers on Friday – put an end to that.
Mark Webber was unable to do as well as his teammate, reporting unusually high rear tyre wear towards the end of the session.
Pos. Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:27.211 16
2. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:27.289 + 0.078s 17
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:27.547 + 0.336s 16
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.552 + 0.341s 18
5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:27.668 + 0.457s 18
6. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1:27.877 + 0.666s 17
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:28.013 + 0.802s 17
8. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:28.426 + 1.215s 19
9. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.440 + 1.229s 19
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:28.520 + 1.309s 15
11. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.597 + 1.386s 19
12. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:28.786 + 1.575s 19
13. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:28.910 + 1.699s 18
14. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:29.443 + 2.232s 20
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:29.928 + 2.717s 19
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:30.203 + 2.992s 17
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:30.729 + 3.518s 17
18. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:30.969 + 3.758s 19
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:31.263 + 4.052s 24
20. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:32.176 + 4.965s 23
21. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:32.274 + 5.063s 21
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:32.388 + 5.177s 18
Being over a second off the pace in first practice, McLaren’s day got even worse in FP2, with team leader Jenson Button being a shocking 2.3 seconds off the Red Bull’s times.
Lotus were particularly consistent, with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean taking 4th and 5th, with Nico Rosberg behind the two Red Bulls at the front. Ferrari had less pace on the super-soft tyre, and coupled with Massa’s KERS issue, it meant that they weren’t as fast near the end of the day.
With McLaren oddly stuck in the midfield, Sauber and Force India each got one driver past Button, while Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso got within 0.05 seconds of Sergio Perez.
The Williams team seems to have gone backwards, with a lowly 16th being the best they could manage in FP2. Further back, Marussia appear to have made gains on the Caterham team, with Jules Bianchi going half a second faster than Charles Pic.
Mercedes suffered reliability issues near the end of the session, with both Hamilton and Rosberg stopping with gearbox problems. Mark Webber had a spin at Turn 13, but avoided a crash at his home event.
Pos. Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:25.908 33
2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:26.172 + 0.264 31
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.322 + 0.414 26
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1:26.361 + 0.453 37
5. Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 1:26.680 + 0.772 30
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:26.748 + 0.840 35
7. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:26.772 + 0.864 28
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:26.855 + 0.947 32
9. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:27.435 + 1.527 34
10. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:28.187 + 2.279 34
11. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.294 + 2.386 30
12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:28.311 + 2.403 37
13. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.566 + 2.658 32
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:28.627 + 2.719 31
15. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:28.772 + 2.864 33
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:28.852 + 2.944 36
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:28.968 + 3.060 35
18. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:29.386 + 3.478 38
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:29.696 + 3.788 30
20. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:30.165 + 4.257 37
21. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:30.600 + 4.692 34
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:32.450 + 6.542 11
Obviously, Red Bull are the force to be reckoned with, but rain is forecast for qualifying and the race, so that might throw a spanner in the works. Otherwise, a Vettel win is the most probable option at this stage.
Lotus look very consistent, and they might just still be sandbagging a little, so keep an eye out for them this weekend, particularly Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari and Mercedes have shown promising flashes, but a win looks out of their reaches for the moment. Still, these four teams are currently creating a closely-packed 4-way duel at the top.
McLaren, meanwhile, are teetering dangerously close to the midfield, mixing it with the Force Indias and Saubers on Friday. Unless rain falls, getting through to Q3 might even be a stretch for Button and Perez.
Williams aren’t going anywhere fast, but the Toro Rosso car might just have some hidden potential there. At the back, it’ll be a much more closely-fought contest than 2012, with Marussia currently gaining a small edge over Caterham.
But this is still speculation, and we’ll have to confirm or deny my predictions come qualifying. See you then!