The 2017 Formula One season took its first breaths on Friday as the drivers and teams took part in Free Practice. Lewis Hamilton started the season as he means to go on by going fastest in both sessions. We won’t have a true idea of each team’s pace until Qualifying but it is an ominous start as dawn breaks on F1’s latest era.
Mercedes started the 2017 in familiar fashion as Lewis Hamilton and new team-mate Valtteri Bottas found themselves in first and second places at the end of the session. The pair were the only two drivers to strap on Pirelli’s ultrasoft tyres as the rest of the teams only made use of the soft and supersoft tyres.
Aside from the various incarnations of Shark Fin and T-Wing the cars look simply stunning as their new looks are defined by the shake-up in regulations for this season. Race Director Charlie Whiting has stated that the FIA will take a look at the T-Wings in regards to flexibility and it was quite apparent on Friday that the wings on some cars were shaking violently. Watch this space as the wing on the Haas in particular looked as if it would make a break for freedom at any moment.
The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen occupied third and fourth places on the timesheets, lagging 0.6 and 1 second behind respectively on the supersofts. Even at this point, we are unaware as to the true pace of the cars and this will only be revealed as qualifying unfolds on Saturday.
Ferrari have been tipped to at least be pushing Mercedes hard this season and their drivers Kimi Raikkonen completed the top six on the same tyres as their counterparts from Milton Keynes.
The rest of the top ten was a more disprganised affair as Felipe Massa (Williams), Romain Grosjean (Haas), Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) and the Force India of Sergio Perez.
McLaren’s session would have done little to calm the nerves back at base as the team took the opportunity to bolt on aero rakes and the supersofts to Stoffel Vandoorne’s car. This underlined their lack of running in pre-season testing and depicted just how far behind they are. To further compound the misery of their lack of pace, McLaren suffered further mechanical gremlins in the session.
In a disrupted FP2, Lewis Hamilton carried over his form from the previous session as he again topped the timesheet. The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel finished the session in second place, more than half a second slower than Hamilton on the same ultrasoft tyres.
Valtteri Bottas finished the session third with compatriot Kimi Raikkonen a further four tenths back and the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen completing the top six. It was widely expected that Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari would be the top three teams and it certainly looks that way after Friday’s running. What remains to be seen is what the true order looks like and we won’t know this until Saturday’s qualifying session.
The top ten was completed by Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Romain Grosjean (Haas), Nico Huldenberg (Renault) and the second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.
The early exchanges of FP2 were interrupted by a red flag brought about by Briton Jolyon Palmer as the rear on his Renault stepped out at the final corner and he spun into the wall. The driver looked perplexed as he headed over to the garage to debrief with his engineers.
Haas had been making noises in pre-season about issues with their Brembo brakes as Frenchman Romain Grosjean in particular struggled to get a feel for them. He found himself in the gravel at turn three following one of a few lock-ups experienced on Friday.
Un-retired Felipe Massa pulled to the side of the track at turn 10 as he took to team radio to inform his Williams team that mechanical gremlins were causing a gearbox issue and he was finding only a false neutral.
Further action occurred in FP2 as Red Bull’s teenage sensation Max Verstappen took the scenic route at turn 12, collecting gravel and chunks of grass in his front wing as a reward for his efforts. He had the ultrasofts on at the time and was on a quick lap but due to his off he boxed after creeping back to the pits. The excursion led to some damage to the floor of his car which trimmed his running.
Ross Brawn, Managing Director of Motor Sports for commercial rights holder Liberty Media was present and in the Mercedes garage and was in discussion with Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda.
Running was shortened for Dane Kevin Magnussen and he only mustered 8 laps due to a water leak.
With five minutes of FP2 remaining, the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson beached his car in the gravel at turn 6 after losing the rear in the braking zone. As the car was extracted from the gravel trap by the recovery vehicle, the Virtual Safety Car curtailed the rest of the session’s running until the final 30 seconds.