2021 Austrian GP – Have Mercedes found an edge on Red Bull?- FP1 & FP2 report
Some may not see the point of doing another day of practice at a track that had held a Grand Prix only five days ago, but here we are for the second part of the Austrian double header.
It was a much tougher day than most expected with may drivers struggling to find their feet early on. The tyre compounds are a step softer this weekend compared to last so there was much still to figure out for a lot of team.
So, let’s get straight into the action.
Several teams had opted to run their test drivers in the morning session. Guanyu Zhou stepped in for Fernando Alonso for Alpine; Callum Ilott got his first outing this season as test driver for alfa Romeo; and Roy Nissany made his hundredth appearance in the Williams, stepping in for George Russell.
Red bull continued from where they left off last weekend as Max Verstappen topped the timing charts. However, teams were running various programmes during first practice.
Mercedes looked as though they were focusing on long runs. But, when Mercedes did attempt to do some quicker runs, they were plagued by tyre issues. Lewis Hamilton complained that he could not get the tyres switched on. This saw both Lewis and Valterri running wide at turn 1 as they attempted a fast lap.
Mercedes were not the only ones struggling with the soft tyre though. Stroll had two big moments which saw him off the track. First, he dipped his tyre into the gravel on the exit of turn 6 which sent him into a spin. After some drifting on the grass, he got back going again.
The second time almost ended in disaster as he completely lost the rear coming out of the final corner. He was lucky to keep it out of the barrier, but it was far from encouraging for Stroll and Aston Martin.
But the common theme of this session was Nikita Mazepin. He couldn’t help himself by getting in the way of both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen almost ran into the back of Mazepin as he entered the pit-lane and made his feelings very clear with a hand gesture to the Russian.
As for Hamilton, Mazepin was crawling around turn 3 and almost turned in on the seven-time world champion. Quick reactions from Mazepin meant that he didn’t cause a crash.
But this would all be forgotten as the drivers focused on FP2.
There were reports of rain at the very start of the session, but it wasn’t anything to worry about as it was very light.
Many drivers chose to run Pirelli’s prototype tyres at the start of the second practice session. Pirelli were testing a new, tougher hard tyre with hopes to use them at Silverstone. Despite not taking the flak for the Baku blowouts, it’s clear they will be doing something about it.
Ferrari had some nagging issues in the morning session despite their quick times, and these issues crept up again in the afternoon. Leclerc had a scary moment at turn 9 in the early part of the session. His rear stepped out on him as he turned it. Luckily for the Monegasque he managed to catch it, but the Ferrari certainly looks a handful.
Half-way through the session and the attention turned away from long runs and into quali runs. It was the two Mercedes who took the top two steps with Verstappen two tenths off Hamilton’s time.
There were a few surprises as well as both Aston Martins looked very quick. Both AlphaTauri’s were showing the pace from last weekend as well.
As the session came into it’s final third, the rain started to pick up. It only came a week late. Their is a potential for rain during the race and drivers continued to run to get a good idea of how far they could run while the rain was coming down.
This did mean that we were not going to see anymore flashy laps as the teams sent of their drivers to gather data about the wet conditions.
But when you go out on a damp track on slick tyres, you can expect some drivers to find it difficult to keep their car on the track. Lewis Hamilton was the first victim of the damp conditions as he ran off the track on the exit of turn 4. After a trip through the gravel he was able to re-join the track and continue on his way.
Norris was the second victim as he lost the rear on the exit of turn 1. He managed to avoid the barrier and get his car facing the right way. His tyres were nicely flat spotted and with only a few minutes remaining, he was forced to change his tyres
Ferrari continued their strong form
Ferrari showed great race pace last weekend despite a poor qualifying. It looks like it could be the same again this weekend.
The long-run pace that they showed in FP1 was very impressive and even though the tyres are a step softer this weekend, Ferrari will be ones to watch in the race.
The quali simulations in FP2 only saw Sainz in 11th and Leclerc in 16th, but I expect that when Qualifying comes round tomorrow, the red cars won’t be that low down.
Ferrari are only 12 points behind McLaren in the constructors championship and if they can get another great result this weekend then they are going to be right with them. Ricciardo had another difficult day with McLaren and it looks as though it will be a long weekend for him.
Ferrari will need to pounce of this, and I think they could do it again this weekend.
Grid Talk podcast
Want to get some more build up to the weekend? The Grid Talk crew previewed this weekend’s Grand Prix in their latest podcasted. This week Louis Edwards hosted Owain Medford, Garry Sloan and Tom Downey. Both the audio and video links are below so make sure to check it out.