Max & Red Bull race pace set to dominate on Sunday, can Mercedes stop them?

Free practice 2 today reflected a more realistic set of results for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, with the cooler track conditions reflecting more closely with the evening race in two days time.

It seemed that many cars couldn’t get on well with the big kerbs at turn 20, with plenty sliding out wide, damaging floors – particularly Verstappen and Leclerc. Many drivers complained bitterly about the height of the kerbing, designed to stop cars going too wide and gaining an advantage for the penultimate corner before start finish straight.

“I understand why it’s there, and honestly I think it’s also better, because otherwise at one point you start playing with the limits,” Max Verstappen commented.

“I went a little bit over it. The wheels were off the ground, you can’t do anything.”

Others were less impressed, with Ocon complaining that “it doesn’t need to be as high as it is.”

“You probably can lose time being on it, but the problem is now if we go on it and break everything – so it could be dangerous.”

In recent past Grand Prix, Mercedes have usually dominated here in the desert, particularly in qualifying, and perhaps on Saturday they might well turn up their power units once more and snap up the front row once again.

With Valtteri Bottas proving he could outrace all others here in 2017, all eyes took notice in FP2 when he was convincingly topping the time sheets, with Max Verstappen not too far back.

But is this the full story for the race? Certainly the fastest times in the session is a good indicator but what is more relevant is the average lap times the drivers performed when disregarding traffic or mistakes.

Last time out, TJ13 analysed the FP2 results of Brazil, and predicted a Max / Lewis fight for the win despite the poor qualifying pace of Red Bull. And boy was it close.

Verstappen fastest race pace, Mercedes & Ferrari tyre issues?

 

 

Who is on top for Sunday?

Certainly not Ferrari, who appears to be struggling for quali pace and indeed decent race pace, lots of head scratching tonight no doubt. Their longevity on the hypers, the softest compound, was abismal. Switching the simulation to the hardest compound seemed to be the only route for both red cars.

Detailed analysis of that data seems to suggest that Red Bull are actually in very good shape again, particularly Verstappen, with low degradation but sustaining long stints with an average lap time of nearly 1:44.00 dead on the softest compound available. 

What the interesting part of that is being the amount of laps sustained, both Red Bull’s performed more laps than any other driver on that softest compound indicating that the fastest tyre is wearing less than both Mercedes and Ferrari, with Verstappen leading the average lap time by over half a second over teammate Ricciardo.

The Australian was just under half a second quicker average pace on the medium (aka ultra soft) however. So not too much between them apart from that tyre likely being used for less laps if degradation remains low over the race distance.

What’s really really interesting is that unlike in Brazil; this time Red Bull’s ultimate pace for qualifying is up there, easily beating Ferrari and leading the way with Mercedes. As previously mentioned, Mercedes are likely to turn the wick up tomorrow so TJ13 fully anticipates a Mercedes pole, probably Bottas based on previous form here and Lewis’ history of switching off a little after winning the drivers championship before season end.

The biggest worry for Red Bull’s confidence for Sunday will be the cooler conditions of the evening, along with the lower speed curves when compared to Brazil, a trait that definitely hurt tyre wear for the German team in Sao Paulo but is unlikely to be such a factor here. Indeed Hamilton was putting in very good average pace on the hardest compound, whereas Bottas was less quick on the medium suggesting the team still needs a tougher bit of rubber over long distance.

Not counting reliability issues for Ricciardo, Red Bull versus Mercedes with the gloves off in the Red Bull garage when one side has zero to lose.