This weekend could see the crowning of Nico Rosberg as World Champion. Someone might just need to tell that to Sebastian Vettel as the former champion put in a great display on Friday. He finished fastest in the second practice to give Ferrari a major boost after a so-far troubled season.
A win for Rosberg and his team mate only finishing tenth or lower will see the German win the title. That’s unlikely unless the engine problems that have plagued the defending champion surface yet again.
Lewis Hamilton was in dominant form in first practice finishing an impressive 0.759 seconds ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg who could only finish seventh fastest.
Hamilton set his fastest time on medium tyres but he was only 0.079 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel who was using the soft tyre on his Ferrari. Team mate Kimi Raikkonen was just behind in third with the Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg in fourth and fifth respectively. Sixth place went to Valtteri Bottas in his Williams.
Did we really learn that much from this session? Not that much because of the different kind of tyres being used and the fact early on the track was very dusty early on before becoming much faster later in the session. The awkward conditions early on led to several drivers locking their wheel and running wide.
The worse problems were suffered by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull. He suffered a rear brake fire leading to damaged sensors and that ended his session halfway through. That led to him finishing down in 14th place whereas his team mate Daniel Ricciardo was eighth. Also down the field were the McLaren’s with Fernando Alonso 16th and Jenson Button 18th. Long straights on this track are a major disadvantage to McLaren due to the lack of power their Honda engine possesses, so don’t expect too much from them this weekend.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel pulled out all the stops to finish fastest in the second practice session. He was only 0.004 seconds faster than Lewis Hamilton in second but he’ll settle for that. Rosberg was again behind Hamilton but only 0.431 seconds this time.
It’s not been an easy season for Ferrari but they’ve been working hard recently to close the big gap between themselves and Mercedes. Vettel was using the medium tyre with the Mercedes and Red Bulls on super-soft. It was promising for Hamilton as he was much faster than Rosberg. No wonder the British driver declared that it had been a “solid day” and feeling a lot more comfortable than on previous visits to the track. He didn’t seem to be too concerned about the Ferrari’s performance in second practice. When asked if they would be a big threat over the weekend, he replied: “I don’t think so but we’ll find out tomorrow (Saturday).
Despite finishing fastest, Vettel wasn’t too confident either believing that Hamilton has “a little more in the pocket.” But he added, “We need to be realistic. If it’s like this tomorrow, we take it for sure.”
It wasn’t such good news for Red Bull with Max Verstappen saying that he’d “struggled initially to find a good set-up” but believes their race pace “was very strong.” He finished seventh in second practice, two places behind Daniel Ricciardo. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was back in tenth with Jenson Button 12th.
An interesting Friday then with Hamilton ahead of Rosberg in both sessions. The different tyres being used mean the results aren’t totally to be trusted but Hamilton will be pleased with his work so far. I’ll be back tomorrow with news of qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield