Ferrari edged out pre-weekend favorites Red Bull on the opening day of practice at the Australian Grand Prix. But a dive into the data suggests there’s nothing to choose between the two sides that have dominated the campaign so far. Here are five things we learned in a revamped Albert Park in Melbourne.
1. Ferrari set an impressive pace
Speaking ahead of the weekend, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz said while they expected to be in the mix, they felt the changes to the track – which saw a chicane removed, tweaks five turns and a full resurfacing – would not fit. their car.
On Friday, the new high-speed section from turns 6 to new turns 9 and 10 was found to be their weak point compared to Red Bull, with red cars slower on the straights and corners faster than Red Bull .
FP2: Leclerc leads Verstappen in Australian GP second practice session
However, they are the fastest of all in slow and medium speed corners – and that gives them a small lead in qualifying and the race according to our data.
There is work to be done, however, with both drivers looking for more comfort in the car, with Sainz admitting they suffer from porpoising. And for qualifying, he said it will all depend on how each gets the most out of the soft tyres, with Ferrari and Red Bull going faster on the second and even third passes on the C5 with cooling laps in between.
2. Red Bull in search of balance
Red Bull won’t be too disappointed ahead of Friday night’s data dive. The four-time world champions have been trailed by Ferrari on the timesheets, but when the times are reassessed for fuel, they know they are on the hunt.
Max Verstappen would have equaled Leclerc’s time if he had put together all his best mini-sectors according to our data, but the Dutchman encountered traffic on one of his runs on soft tires and then made a mistake up front -last bend of another.
READ MORE: Verstappen closes gap with Ferrari saying Red Bull is ‘more or less’ on its own at Albert Park
The reigning world champion was also happy with how the car felt on higher fuel runs, with the RB18 just 0.01 seconds behind Ferrari in our sim race rankings.
Teammate Sergio Perez was more frustrated, hinting the car felt better in FP1 than FP2 as they headed in the wrong direction with the setup – but remained optimistic his team can find “a few tenths” which he believed would turn the weekend in their favor.
3. McLaren faster than expected
Since their miserable experience with the front axle in Bahrain, McLaren have taken steps forward and although they are small, a further improvement in understanding their package has put them in contention not only for Q3 but also in the fight for points on Sunday.
READ MORE: McLaren drivers hail ‘best Friday’ of season after finishing in top 10 in Melbourne
This is good news for the home fans, who are dreaming of a big result for their hero Daniel Ricciardo. He was coy about his expectations for this weekend, despite the orange cars showing a change of pace that few expected. Over one lap they seem to have the sixth fastest car, but if Lando Norris had connected all his best sectors he would have been the sixth fastest of them all.
The race pace is less impressive, with McLaren second slowest on the straights, but both drivers feel reasonably confident with the car – and there’s the caveat that the British team rarely shows its true colors a friday.
4. Fast Alpine in the fast intermediate sector
Barcelona’s pre-season race struggles seem a world apart for Alpine at the moment. The Enstone-based team scored 16 points in the first two rounds to place fourth in the constructors’ standings.
And that encouraging pace continued in Melbourne, with the blue and pink cars – returning to their permanent reverse livery for the rest of the season – particularly quick on the straights, which is why they were so powerful in the new sector. intermediate to high speed.
READ MORE: Alpine drivers set for close battle for Q3 spots despite good Friday in Melbourne
In qualifying, Alpine was third in the pecking order, 0.69 seconds behind Ferrari and Red Bull but a quarter of a second behind Mercedes. Our ideal lap data, which compiles a driver’s best mini-sectors, shows Fernando Alonso squeezed just about everything out of the car – 0.004s off his ultimate best – with team-mate Esteban Ocon leaving just 0.043s on Table. There could be more to come, too, with sporting director Alan Permane saying they have some work to do to squeeze the most out of the soft tire on the first timed lap of qualifying.
The race pace seems less good, as they drop to fifth place. This aligns with Alonso’s assessment that they have balance issues to address with higher fuel.
Fernando Alonso: Alpine ‘would love to be stronger’ in final sector in Melbourne
5. Mercedes suffers again
Mercedes’ sore start to the 2022 campaign is set to continue in Melbourne, with the reigning world champions nearly a second off the fuel-efficient pace as they struggle at high speed.
Their race pace is slightly better, as they pass Alpine in third, but it’s still 0.8s per lap slower than Ferrari and Red Bull, meaning challenging for the podium seems like a step too far.
READ MORE: ‘Nothing you change on the car makes a difference’ – Mercedes drivers frustrated after rough Friday in Australia
Lewis Hamilton was dejected after testing, with the Briton saying ‘nothing you change on the car makes a difference at the moment’, while team-mate George Russell admitted he was suffering from ‘the worst’ porpoising that he had known.
With no updates this weekend, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Mercedes aren’t closer to the front of the pack – but they’ve shown impressive resilience in the face of adversity. so far this season, and there’s no sign that it won’t continue here.
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