Hopes that Ferrari will be able to take the fight to Mercedes were dealt a blow as Friday’s second practice session for the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix drew to a close at the Sochi Autodrom.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel led the way in the day’s earlier session, but the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas saved their Hypersoft tyres and were still just mere fractions behind the German.
Come the afternoon, the F1 W09 Silver Arrows bolted on the highest-grip rubber and immediately asserted their authority by claiming a 1-2 result at the top of the timesheets. The Red Bull Racing duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo got ahead of the Ferraris to claim third- and fourth-fastest respectively, while the red cars of Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen continued the Noah’s Ark trend in fifth and sixth.
Vettel was worryingly over half a second off Hamilton’s pace, hardly the kind of deficit that will help the four-time World Champion make any headway into the 40-point lead Hamilton enjoys at the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings. In one of the few notable moments of a largely incident-free session, Vettel made another mistake in the afternoon session – continuing a pattern that has stretched back to the Italian Grand Prix – with a spin at Turn 13.
On a track layout that rewards chassis balance in spades, it was no surprise to see the two Force Indias comfortably in the top-ten, headed by Sergio Pérez in seventh. Teammate Esteban Ocon was just 0.025 seconds adrift in ninth in a tight midfield squabble where the gap down to fourteenth (Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault) was barely 0.4 seconds.
Splitting the two Force India runners was Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who was clearly enjoying a boost in speed thanks to an upgraded Honda combustion engine. The impressive Frenchman made a better showing than teammate Brendon Hartley, who was almost a second off the former GP2 Series champion’s best lap. Frustratingly for Gasly, he will have to showcase the new Honda motor’s improved power from the back of the grid in Sunday’s race, joining his teammate, the two Red Bulls and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso from the final rows thanks to grid penalties.
Marcus Ericsson shook off the disappointment of this week’s announcement that he would be demoted to the role of Sauber’s third driver next year by going tenth-fastest in the Ferrari-powered C37. Teammate Charles Leclerc was thirteenth-fastest, just 0.137 seconds slower, with the pair split by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas and Carlos Sainz Jr’s Renault.
The bottom of the timesheets saw the grid’s two worst chassis’ predictably well off the pace. The McLaren pairing of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne had to resort to giving each other slipstreams to try and improve the MCL33’s poor straight-line speed; the tactic achieved little with Alonso over 2.6 seconds off the pace and Vandoorne a further half a second adrift.
Sergey Sirotkin’s hopes of being able to delight his home fans look to be a lost cause as his Williams’ shortcomings were once again laid bare. The Russian driver was 19th-fastest, beating only teammate Lance Stroll.
|FORMULA 1 2018 VTB RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 2 TIMES|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:33.385||35|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:33.584||+ 0.199||33|
|3.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||1:33.827||+ 0.442||32|
|4.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||1:33.844||+ 0.459||37|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:33.928||+ 0.543||33|
|6.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:34.388||+ 1.003||31|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:35.122||+ 1.737||30|
|8.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:35.137||+ 1.752||28|
|9.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:35.147||+ 1.762||33|
|10.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:35.295||+ 1.910||35|
|11.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:35.331||+ 1.946||33|
|12.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:35.341||+ 1.956||37|
|13.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:35.432||+ 2.047||32|
|14.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:35.568||+ 2.183||35|
|15.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:35.911||+ 2.526||35|
|16.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:36.024||+ 2.639||29|
|17.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:36.074||+ 2.689||34|
|18.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:36.617||+ 3.232||31|
|19.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:36.861||+ 3.476||39|
|20.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:37.001||+ 3.616||35|
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team