The 2017 Formula One season began today in Melbourne, Australia, as the drivers took the cars to the Albert Park track for the first official running of the year. Here’s our Friday Practice report!


First Practice

As midday approached in Melbourne so too did the dawn of a new season of Formula One. Romain Grosjean was the first driver out in an official 2017 F1 session as First Practice began at Albert Park. A number of cars went out immediately to perform install laps. While Hamilton asked for a change of boots after completing his install laps, Esteban Ocon was confined to the garage for a while after encountering a brake problem on the Force India.

The tyres available for this weekend are the yellow soft tyre, the red super-soft tyre and, for the first time at Albert Park, the purple ultra-soft tyre. The expected lap time difference between the soft and super-soft is 0.9 seconds. As always with First Practice, the teams get an extra allocation of tyres for the first 40 minutes of the session which they must hand back after the allocated time.


READ MORE: Weekend Preview


There was a lull for fifteen minutes, most likely due to reliability concerns and reduced power unit availability this year. This year each driver has only four power units available to them throughout the season, compared to the five available in 2016, due to the drop from 21 to 20 races. Lance Stroll soon headed out on track to get in some running after a troubled winter testing period. His front wing got very close to the pit wall as he exited his garage due to the notoriously tight pit-lane here. Stroll finished the session six tenths off the pace of his veteran team-mate Felipe Massa, which all in all isn’t a bad result for a rookie on his first outing at this track.

Early on in the session, there were GPS issues for Daniel Ricciardo. His race engineer said he wouldn’t be able to help him navigate traffic due to the intermittent signal. The Australian became the first driver to venture onto the grass as he ran wide at Turn One after setting his first flying lap of the year. His team-mate Max Verstappen was frustrated with a lack of sync in his gears on his initial run, but the issue was soon fixed.

The pace certainly looked to have increased from last year. Lewis Hamilton’s first flying lap of the session was a 1:26.478 – already 3.3 seconds quicker than the fastest time he posted in FP1 in 2016. He then improved to a 1:25.535 which is faster than any time we saw in any of three practice sessions last year, and just less than two seconds slower than last year’s pole time. Valtteri Bottas threw the gauntlet down to his team-mate immediately by setting the fastest lap on his first lap of the session – a 1:25.142. Then it was Red Bull’s turn, as Ricciardo set the new fastest time on the super-soft tyres with a 1:24.88, before Bottas took the top position back by going eight hundredths quicker. As Bottas ran wide of the kerb at Turn Twelve on his next attempt, Hamilton then reclaimed the top spot by six tenths of a second.

At Haas, on-board cameras showed that Romain Grosjean’s T-wing looked rather flexy and close to failure in some of the braking zones and over the bumps of the street circuit. 

Stoffel Vandoorne found himself stuck in the garage due to a loss of water pressure. He was able to get back out with 40 minutes of the session remaining. He ended the session four seconds off the ultimate pace and 1.5 seconds down on his team-mate. Summing up his day, Vandoorne was pleased with the progress he made between the two practice sessions:

“It’s very difficult to predict where we’ll qualify tomorrow: I’m not really looking at the lap times at the moment; it’s more about the feeling, for me. I’m still finding time in the car on every lap, feeling more comfortable, and I’m happy that the set-up changes are going in the right direction. “I made a big improvement from FP1 to FP2, so hopefully tomorrow will be another step forward.”

There were mechanical issues elsewhere among what is expected to be the lower part of the grid for 2017. Jolyon Palmer’s session came to an early end with a seal-related issue on his RS17 and, though Pascal Wehrlein completed the FIA’s fitness test in order to participate this weekend, the German spent most of the first session garage bound due to an issue that wasn’t major according to the team. Wehrlein himself wasn’t especially pleased with how the first day of the season had gone:

“I am not fully satisfied with my first practice sessions today. We are still working on finding a suitable set-up for the car, but it was positive that we have gathered some good data in both practice sessions. Now we need to focus on tomorrow in order to reach further improvements.”


SESSION DEBRIEF:

There’s much more going on here than Mercedes simply being quickest by seven tenths. Only Mercedes used the faster ultra-soft tyres to set their fastest laps. However, that’s not to say that when tyres are taken into account that Ferrari would have been outright quicker. Ferrari usually run low fuel levels in this session. Add to this the fact that Red Bull were second fastest to Mercedes and you have a very interesting three-way tussle in store for the rest of the weekend. 


Full result from Practice 1:

  Driver Team Time
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.220
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.583
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +0.666
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull +1.026
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +1.152
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +1.244
7 Felipe Massa Williams +1.922
8 Romain Grosjean Haas +1.948
9 Nico Hulkenberg Renault +1.963
10 Sergio Perez Force India +2.056
11 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso +2.230
12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +2.294
13 Lance Stroll Williams +2.514
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren +2.896
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +3.128
16 Esteban Ocon Force India +3.436
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas +3.447
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber +4.319
19 Jolyon Palmer Renault +4.365
20 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren +4.475

 


Second Practice

As the green light came on at the end of the pit-lane to mark the start of Second Practice, work was still being carried out on Verstappen’s Red Bull, Vettel’s Ferrari and Alonso’s McLaren, leading to delayed starts to the session for these drivers. 

Haas were once again first out on track in the second session. They appeared without the T-wing on their car after being ordered to remove it ahead of the session. Team principal Gunther Steiner said: 

“We ran this wing in the whole Barcelona test and never had a problem with it breaking or anything. In FP2 we had to take it off because of the moving, so we need to see what we do in FP3. On the data we can see the downforce is there. It is working, so we want to get it back on. But we need to see if we’re allowed to.”

On his first flying lap, Grosjean locked up into Turn One. Later in the session, Grosjean had another lock up, this time into Turn Three where he ran through the gravel. Braking issues are clearly still a problem for Haas in the early part of the team’s sophomore season. Meanwhile, Haas’ other driver, Kevin Magnussen, was told to slow down and return to his garage. The Dane had a water leak issue in his car, which left him boxed in the garage for much of the session.


READ MORE: Albert Park Track Guide 


Hamilton got things off to a flying start, setting a 1:25.283 on the soft tyre, before Bottas upped the pace on the super-soft tyre. The Ferrari pair, both on super-soft tyres, then toppled the Mercedes pair, with Vettel going fastest on a 1:24.926.

The first Red Flag of the season came out as a result of Jolyon Palmer, who crashed at the exit of the final corner. With plenty of damage, the crash certainly compromises the Brit’s weekend, and the car needs to be rebuilt ahead of the next session on Saturday afternoon. Palmer completed just ten laps today following his earlier issues in the first session. Palmer does not yet understand the cause of the accident:

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing. I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.”

When the session got going again, Felipe Massa had an issue which caused his car to come to a halt at Turn Ten. The stoppage prevented him from completing any long runs. Massa is hopeful of a better day tomorrow:

“It’s not really the great day we were expecting and unfortunately I couldn’t finish the second session; I only did six laps. The track was still a little bit dirty and then suddenly we had this issue in the car. I went into neutral and couldn’t select any gears, which meant that I lost the opportunity to try the ultrasoft tyres and do any long runs.”

The lap times began to tumble once more, as Hamilton became the first man to break into the 1:23s. His 1:23.620 was the fastest of the day, edging ever nearer to the all-time lap record. After today’s running, the three-time World Champion is more optimistic of his hope for the weekend:

“It’s great to be back in Australia and I’m super happy to be back in the car – particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 per cent perfect. After struggling with some issues in Barcelona, we didn’t know if we’d have the same thing here. What’s really encouraging is that we’ve arrived at the track just a week later and the car is exactly where it should be. It’s feeling great out there and the guys have done a fantastic job. We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tyres performed really well today too. Coming into today, we really didn’t know where we’d be. We knew from FP1 that the Ferrari’s weren’t at their maximum. Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick. We’ll see tomorrow how it really stands.”

Vettel, who finished with the second quickest time in the session, continues to play his cards close to his chest:

“On Friday, it is always difficult to say much. Anyway, it was nice to be back in the cockpit again. In the first session, we had a few small problems which slowed us down a bit, but things went better in the second one. As for the balance, today wasn’t bad, but there is still room for improvement. The lap times don’t mean anything. Only tomorrow will we find out what the score is.”

While Verstappen had a wide moment through Turn Twelve, Marcus Ericsson was caught out by the rear of his Sauber and ended up stuck in the gravel with a smoking brake at Turn Six with five minutes remaining in the session. The Virtual Safety Car was brought out while the C36 was removed and the disrupted session ended under it, meaning no one put in any last gasp attempts at fast laps. 


SESSION DEBRIEF:

Lewis Hamilton looked to be in a league of his own in the Second Practice session. Despite all the pre-season hype, any issues Mercedes had in testing appear to be solved and they finish today as very much the favourites for the race win on Sunday. However, who knows just how much every team is still holding back at this point. No team has truly showed their hand yet. Neither Mercedes nor Ferrari will have run in their highest engine mode.

It’s worth noting that outside of the top three teams, Toro Rosso, with the same Renault engine that Red Bull use, were fastest, followed by Romain Grosjean’s Ferrari-powered Haas. The highest Mercedes customer car was Sergio Perez, in eleventh, behind all the Renault-powered cars bar Jolyon Palmer, who only completed ten laps. 

The lap record will get beaten tomorrow – but will it be beaten in Practice Three or Qualifying, how much will it be beaten by and, most importantly, who will beat it by the largest amount? 


Full result from Practice 2:

  Driver Team Time
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:23.620
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +0.547
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.556
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.905
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +1.030
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull +1.393
7 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso +1.464
8 Romain Grosjean Haas +1.816
9 Nico Hulkenberg Renault +1.858
10 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +1.873
11 Sergio Perez Force India +1.971
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren +2.380
13 Esteban Ocon Force India +2.525
14 Felipe Massa Williams +2.711
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +2.878
16 Lance Stroll Williams +2.905
17 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren +2.988
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber +3.299
19 Kevin Magnussen Haas +3.659
20 Jolyon Palmer Renault +3.929

The 2017 Australian Grand Prix weekend continues with Third Practice and Qualifying on Saturday. The Grand Prix begins at 6am BST on Sunday morning. Lights Out will have full coverage throughout the weekend.


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Nicky Haldenby is a 23 year old Formula One blogger from Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Having grown up with F1 often on the TV on Sunday afternoons, Nicky has been following the sport avidly since 2006. He graduated from the University of Hull in 2015 with a First Class degree in English Language and Literature. He founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in March 2016.

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