Formula 1 drivers are braced for an unpredictable Austria follow-up after a surprising Friday “mix-up” for the Styrian GP – with Lewis Hamilton struggling – ahead of expected rain for qualifying.
The second race of Spielberg’s season-opening back-to-back has an epic act to follow after last weekend’s Austrian GP, but the results from the ‘Styria’ Practice One and Two hinted at a much closer pecking order.
In sweltering hot conditions, favourites Mercedes topped neither Friday session as Sergio Perez and then Max Verstappen set the pace – with Hamilton “not happy” with his W11 and finishing only sixth in P2.
“I think we were a little bit worried initially that it was just going to be more of the same, we know exactly where the top teams are, where the slow teams are,” said Sky F1’s Jenson Button after two intriguing timesheets.
“But it was such a mix-up today in terms of lap times and long runs so it’s looking very interesting.”
Hamilton admitted his car “felt relatively normal but quite far off” during the second session, before adding: “There’s a lot of work going on in the background to try and figure out why.
“I was feeling good in P1 and the start of P2 but then it started to drop off. Others out there are obviously quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace, so hopefully tomorrow we will be a bit better position.”
Bottas was just 0.043s slower than Verstappen in the afternoon, although it was still a dip in results considering Mercedes enjoyed a practice hat-trick, took pole and won the race in the Austria opener.
“It does seem that the others are getting pretty quick, or we’ve slowed down,” admitted Hamilton. “One of the two.”
Verstappen, meanwhile, is much happier with Red Bull’s standing ahead of the second weekend.
The Dutchman was Mercedes’ closest challenger in qualifying for the Austrian GP – but still half a second off – before being forced to retire while running second in the race due to a mechanical failure.
“It’s a much better [feeling],” said Verstappen on Friday. “We were of course not so happy last week and we tried a few things this weekend, and so far I’m a lot more pleased. It’s heading into the right direction.
“It’s been a lot more positive.”
Could rain wreak havoc for qualifying?
Adding to the intrigue is the threat of heavy showers overnight and well into Saturday for qualifying – which some teams believe may even wipe out the session completely.
That is why most were treating P2 as a mini shootout itself, as the results from that session would set the grid should qualifying be cancelled.
Although conditions do look more favourable for Saturday.
“If we have to start [sixth] that would definitely suck if we don’t get to qualify, because P2 wasn’t great,” said Hamilton. “[I’d be] starting further back than I was even last week [fifth].
“It would definitely make it challenging. I’ll try to do the dry dance, if there is a dry dance!”
But Hamilton also added: “When it’s raining it’s fun out there so hopefully we can still drive in the rain tomorrow.”
What was the P2 top-10?
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull
- Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
- Sergio Perez, Racing Point
- Lance Stroll, Racing Point
- Carlos Sainz, McLaren
- Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
- Alex Albon, Red Bull
- Lando Norris, McLaren
- Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
- Esteban Ocon, Renault