Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s hopes of being able to strike back against championship leaders Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were dealt a blow due to the pace advantage shown by the Silver Arrows in practice.
Already faced with the task of mounting the biggest championship comeback of his career, Ferrari will have a tough night ahead of them to extract more pace from their cars and compete with Mercedes, who topped FP2 with Hamilton leading Valtteri Bottas.
The pair were separated by just two tenths of a second in hypersoft qualifying simulations, whilst Vettel – who had earlier topped FP1 – was down in fifth, half-a-second off the pace and had a harmless but tyre-damaging spin at turn thirteen during the race simulations.
“Obviously, we’re quite far away from the rest of the field, so it’s not ideal,” said Vettel.
“I think we’re struggling a bit over one lap, but also in the long runs I think we went through our tyres a bit harder and quicker than the rest, so we need to have a look.
“But I think, just looking at ourselves, it wasn’t a good day and in terms of feel for the car, I think there’s more that we need to get.
“I think we have some catching up to do.”
Despite not expecting to be competitive this weekend, the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo finished third and fourth, just less than one tenth of a second ahead of Vettel. However, they will be out of the qualifying battle due to power unit component penalties.
Kimi Raikkonen was unable to match the time of his Ferrari team-mate and finished one second off Hamilton’s benchmark.
Mercedes’ long run pace appeared to also be stronger than that of the Ferraris. The pace of Hamilton and Bottas on the ultrasoft tyres compared favourably to Vettel, whilst the Ferrari driver only completed a couple of laps on the hypersoft tyre due to his spin, ruling out any comparisons on that tyre.
With their being another ‘step’ in the Pirelli tyre selections this weekend, and the hypersofts seemingly not being able to run very quickly for many laps, teams may be tempted to try and qualify on a harder compound, if the difference between the tyres isn’t as big as what was seen in Singapore.
In a close-fought midfield battle, Racing Point Force India’s Sergio Perez narrowly beat Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and team-mate Esteban Ocon to seventh place, with all three separated by less than one tenth of a second. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson completed the top ten, despite sitting out FP1 for Antonio Giovinazzi.
Alonso, Red Bull & Toro Rosso at the back of the grid
Five drivers will be sent to the back of the grid for the Russian Grand Prix after taking fresh power unit components for this weekend.
Red Bull have opted to revert to the more reliable ‘spec B’ Renault power unit for this weekend, whilst Toro Rosso are testing upgrades to the Honda power unit, which will be used at Red Bull from next season. Alonso will also take fresh components for use at a track where McLaren are more likely to be competitive.
The grid order of the drivers was determined by the order in which they took to the track in FP1. As Alonso’s car was out first (driven by Lando Norris), he will start in 16th place, followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley. However, this will change if penalties are applied to other drivers.
Haas F1 escape overnight fire scare
The Haas team were fortunate to only lose a couple of sets of tyres after a fire broke out in their garage on the night before practice.
A fire was spotted by a security guard, which was soon extinguished by members of various team. The fire is believed to have begun in the control box for a set of tyre blankets.
The fire damaged two sets of tyres, both of which belonged to Kevin Magnussen. Haas have already asked permission from the FIA for replacement sets of tyres.
“We don’t know what happened yet, because it’s all burned,” Steiner told Motorsport.com.
“And we cannot jump to a conclusion. I don’t want to put any panic on to what actually happened, because we don’t know.
“I think one security guard saw it, and then they all worked together to extinguish it.
“A lucky escape, and it’s good that they worked together and caught it, because if tyres go on fire they are difficult to extinguish.”
RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX, Free Practice
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m33.385s – 35 Laps
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m33.584s 0.199s 33
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m33.827s 0.442s 32
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m33.844s 0.459s 37
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m33.928s 0.543s 33
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m34.388s 1.003s 31
7 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m35.122s 1.737s 30
8 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m35.137s 1.752s 28
9 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m35.147s 1.762s 33
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m35.295s 1.910s 35
11 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m35.331s 1.946s 33
12 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m35.341s 1.956s 37
13 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m35.432s 2.047s 32
14 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m35.568s 2.183s 35
15 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m35.911s 2.526s 35
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m36.024s 2.639s 29
17 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m36.074s 2.689s 34
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m36.617s 3.232s 31
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m36.861s 3.476s 39
20 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m37.001s 3.616s 35
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
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