The summer break is over, F1 is back, and if the initial returns are anything to go by, the fight at the top remains as intriguing as ever.
Taking a session apiece in Friday practice, Mercedes and Ferrari seem to have picked up more-or-less where they left off in July – the Silver Arrows the faster package, but still not having everything their own way.
Understandably, Lewis Hamilton was happy having finished the day P1 with his 1:44.753, but the Scuderia can take positives from the fact that even as the Silver Arrows improved, they still managed to keep a driver on the front row of the grid with Kimi Raikkonen P2, 0.262s down on Hamilton.
Add to that the unsatisfied Sebastian Vettel’s session-best pace on the (admittedly brief) race simulations, and the potential is there for a legitimate tussle come Sunday – certainly something that can’t be said of every major sporting event this weekend.
Midfield gap as wide as ever
Somebody get Gene Haas some Prozac.
Two sessions into the second half of the season, and it’s already clear that the difference between the frontrunners and the midfield remains embarrassingly large.
With Carlos Sainz P7 and 1.944s off P1 in FP1, and Nico Hulkenberg P7, 1.688s off in FP2, the best of the midfield couldn’t hope to so much as sniff the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes, clearly delineating the field between the haves and the have-nots.
For a point of reference, the best midfield driver in 2015 (Hulkenberg, then with Force India) was 1.076s off the top in FP2, while in 2016 (again Hulkenberg) it was only 0.572s – this year’s 1.688 gap would’ve been good for P13 in those sessions.
No, the gap won’t be quite as large at every circuit for the rest of the season (the length of a lap in Spa certainly extends the margin) but it’s nevertheless pretty damning a statement of the health of the grid. Regardless of how you feel about salary caps, revenue distribution and all that stuff, having 7/10ths of the grid be a moving chicane is not a good look.
Judging by Daniel Ricciardo’s up-and-very-down sector pace, we won’t be seeing a repeat of their low-drag gamble from previous years.
One DRS failure is unlucky, but two in the same session? Somebody at Haas has some explaining to do.
Felipe Massa just can’t seem to catch a break right now…
With a torrential downpour to end FP2, let’s just hope the rain didn’t peak too early. Only a 40% chance of precipitation on Saturday, down to 10% on Sunday.