Can struggling Mercedes take hope from long-run pace? – Motorsport Week

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Formula 1 returned to the streets of Baku for the first time since April 2019 on Friday, as two one-hour practice sessions were held across the morning and afternoon.

Red Bull jumped to the helm of both championships last time out in Monaco, heading the standings for the first time since 2013, and it looked an encouraging day for the new title leaders.

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez topped a practice session each, while Perez’s post-session comments indicated that he is finally getting on top of the RB16B, at a venue where he has historically thrived.

Mercedes, meanwhile, struggled to unleash pace from the W12 – a shaky start to a weekend in which it is looking to banish the disappointment of Monaco two weeks ago.

Mercedes was only seventh and 10th respectively in FP1 but it looked less like an anomaly and more like reality come FP2.

Both Mercedes drivers end up outside the top 10, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas setting the 11th and 16th fastest lap times respectively, Hamilton’s effort leaving him over a second down on pace-setter Perez.

“It didn’t feel good in this session, just in general I was pushing, I was on the limit, but the car is limited,” Hamilton reflected.

“There’s areas that I should just be quicker but there’s no more grip. But we’ll work at it, of course it’s not easy to be out of the top 10 in pace when we’ve had pace in other places. I don’t really know we’re why where we are.”

On the qualifying simulation runs, Hamilton consistently lost three-tenths of a second to Perez in every sector, while the Mexican failed to set a single purple sector – those bragging rights went to Verstappen and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi.

The situation for the reigning world champions doesn’t improve drastically when it comes to its long-run pace. Both Hamilton and Bottas were down on Verstappen and Perez’s times, meaning it’s Red Bull who looks to hold the advantage after the first day of running.

Both Verstappen and Perez set long-run times using the Soft compound, Hamilton ran the Medium and Bottas used both the Soft and Medium compound. Verstappen narrowly edged Perez for the fastest average time, but the duo, so far, appear to be comfortably clear of rivals Mercedes.

Driver Team Average Lap Time Tyre
Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:46.838 Soft
Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:46.907 Soft
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:47.187 Medium
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:47.834 Soft/Medium

McLaren lacking in battle against Ferrari

Last time out in Monaco, Ferrari and McLaren, embroiled in a battle for third in the Constructors’ Championship, both made it onto the podium. While it was McLaren’s second appearance this year with Lando Norris, it marked Ferrari’s first of 2021, as Carlos Sainz crossed the line in second place.

Ferrari was expecting a more mellow outing in Baku, following Leclerc’s pole-but-not-pole outing, stating it would be “back to reality” this weekend.

The Monegasque driver endured a challenging day, hitting the wall in FP2 before having a fractious time during the long-run simulation. His lap times reflect that, as he was an average of 1.3s slower than Sainz throughout the runs, albeit on the Medium tyre compared to Sainz’s Soft.

McLaren’s duo of Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were separated by almost three-tenths of a second at the end of FP2 in favour of the former. However, things were closer between the pair in the long-runs, with both using the red-walled Soft compound.

Nevertheless, Ferrari headed both McLarens at the end of the FP2 by a sizeable margin, while Sainz’s long-run times suggest that the battle for supremacy in the fight for third is very much in Ferrari’s favour this weekend.

“Even looking at their [Ferrari’s] early races this year, they had a lot of speed and probably underperformed a little bit for what we felt they had,” Ricciardo said. “And now it looks like they are getting everything out of it. I am not surprised that they are up there.”

Driver Team Average Lap Time Tyre
Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:47:400 Soft
Lando Norris McLaren 1:46.694 Soft
Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:47.751 Soft
Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:48.716 Medium

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