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2018 F1

2018 Belgium Grand Prix : Practice Analysis

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Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen lead both the free practice sessions on the Friday of the Belgium Grand Prix weekend at the Circuit de Francorchamps in Spa. While the German topped the time-sheets with the quickest lap in FP1 the Finnish driver topped the time sheets in FP2. Mercedes drivers were second and third in both sessions with Lewis Hamilton leading Valtteri Bottas in both sessions.

In the sprint runs of the Free Practice sessions, the Ferraris look the quickest, while Mercedes are second quickest. Both these teams have come to this race weekend with upgraded power units. Unlike the previous circuits on the calendar, this one is often a power sensitive circuit, and teams tend to bring upgrades here. Mercedes confirmed that both Bottas and Hamilton would have the upgraded power unit at this circuit along with other changed components which might incur grid penalties.

In the first and second sector of the lap it was a close call between the Ferraris and the Mercedes drivers where the former was quicker in the first and the latter in the long and complex second sector. Red Bull Racing driver Verstappen was consistently quick in the final sector which is the quicker section of the circuit.

Here are the fastest sector times from both the sessions:

Session Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
FP1 30.454 (Bottas) 44.951 (Vettel) 28.605 (Verstappen)
FP2 30.334 (Raikkonen) 44.341 (Hamilton) 24.480 (Verstappen)

Hamilton and Raikkonen are two drivers to look out for at this race weekend, since this circuit suits their driving styles and both have often looked exceptionally comfortable at this circuit, which has an undulated terrain and long flowing corners. Their performance around this circuit, remains a benchmark for their own teams and several drivers down the grid. In a free practice session, they are normally the two drivers who draw most of the focus and attention.

In the mid-field, newly renamed Racing Point Force India driver, Sergio Perez and Renault driver Carlos Sainz occupied the seventh and eighth spot in FP2 while in FP1 it was Esteban Ocon in seventh place and Nico Hulkenberg with the eighth fastest time. Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc sat comfortably at ninth and tenth place in the FP2 session, with the swede being quicker than the Monagasque. The Alfa Romeo team could be a permanent contender for the top 10 finishes this weekend. However, their Ferrari powered counterparts, the Haas team, seemed to be far outside the top 10 in both practice sessions.

The average lap times on the respective compounds in the race simulations of the FP2 session were as follows:

Driver Supersoft Soft Medium
Raikkonen 1: 48.740  (5 laps) 1: 49.081 (4 laps) NA
Vettel NA 1: 48.674  (3 laps) 1: 48.229 (5 laps)
Hamilton 1: 48. 642 (4 laps) NA 1: 48.868 (5 laps)
Bottas 1: 48. 273 (3 laps) 1:48.352 (5 laps) NA
Verstappen 1: 48.865 (4 laps) 1:48.727 (5 laps) NA
Ricciardo 1: 49.493 (5 laps) 1:49.264 (3 laps) NA

In terms of long run pace or speed in race trims, the Ferraris look the quickest on the medium compound and are strangely about six tenths of a second quicker than the Mercedes, according to the comparison of averages between Hamilton and Vettel who carried out simulations on the white compound. On the soft tyre, Valtteri Bottas lap time average is the quickest, followed by Vettel who’s second quickest and Verstappen who’s third quickest. The difference between the Mercedes and Ferrari on the yellow striped tyre compound, was almost three tenths of a second. However in terms of the supersoft compound tyre, Bottas time is not representative since he completed a total of three laps on that tyre, carrying heavier fuel loads. So that would lead to Hamilton’s average lap time becoming the benchmark of the fastest car, followed by Raikkonen’s average lap time as the second quickest, and Verstappen’s as third quickest. Amongst the top six cars, Ricciardo seemed to be lagging behind the most, with his average lap times clocking in the range of the 1 minute 49 second bracket, similar to the mid-field teams like Renault or Racing Point Force India.

The qualifying session should be a close call between the Ferraris and the Mercedes, but Mercedes fate could also depend on the number of grid penalties they get for changed components. It is still uncertain whether Bottas alone will take penalties or it will be both drivers. But in terms of time-sheets, one could see a close fight between Raikkonen, Hamilton and Vettel. The race could be interesting since it is a long circuit, and demanding on both power, aerodynamics and tyres. So one could see two-stop strategies pan out during the race. This circuit has been known for first lap incidents and safety car periods in case of rainy weather. Therefore, the outcome for both Saturday and Sunday could be a bit unpredictable. There could be a guaranteed double podium for the Ferraris, and it could be one of those race weekends where Raikkonen could end 105 race long winless streak.

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