Call it once bitten twice shy, but Lewis Hamilton is playing down the pace he showed to own day one of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend while remaining wary of Red Bull.
Max Verstappen thumped Mercedes last weekend when Pirelli rubber was unkind to the Champs while the Red Bull, in the Dutchman’s hands, found wings. Beating the Black Arrows fair and square.
Hamilton was clearly fired up by the defeat and like his team is seeking amends, hence they were on it all day, their W11 enjoying almost a one-second advantage over their closest rival Verstappen, and looking more comfortable on the harder Pirelli’s on offer for this race.
The driver of the #77 car ended the day over a quarter of a second faster than his teammate Valtteri Bottas and eight tenths up on third-placed Max.
Hamilton summed up his Friday, “The Red Bulls look very close to us on the long runs, so we can expect another close race here.
“It’s definitely been quite tough out there today. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Spain when it’s been this hot. The weather is beautiful, but it’s tricky for the car and very tough on the tyres as well.
“It’s also been quite windy and that can make it difficult out there, but it’s a good challenge. It’s been a positive day, particularly the second session which went better for me.”
Pace is no problem for the W11, it has it in huge dosages, but the way the tyres went off the cliff last weekend will be the troublesome bit that Mercedes will be looking to overcome and avoid.
For now, the news appears to be good according to Lewis, who was nevertheless cautious in his assessment, “We didn’t see any blistering, the tyres felt OK and the long runs didn’t look too bad, but we also didn’t see any blistering last Friday, so we’ll have to remain careful.”
At the same time, Bottas, who topped FP1, was upbeat, “It’s been a good day for us, and we’ve gained plenty of learnings. It’s a nice feeling to be back on track here and feeling the improvements of the car since we were last here, back in pre-season testing.
“We did long runs on all of the tyre compounds today and I didn’t experience any blistering, so there will be lots of learnings for us to look into in order to really maximise tyre performance here.
“We’re looking strong but the main thing will be Sunday with these temperatures and whether we can keep these tyres in a good condition,” added the Finn.
Amid suggestions that Mercedes should be setting the pace in races, do more stops is need be to maximise the pace advantage they enjoy. With one second advantage in hand, why go on the defensive when they can dictate?
Mercedes chief race engineer, Andrew Shovlin hinted at a rethink, “Our single-lap pace looks promising, we seem to be getting the Soft tyre to work fairly well in particular.
“The long-run is more of a challenge and the area we need to work on tonight. The story looks similar to recent races; we’re reasonable compared to all cars except Verstappen – with him it looks very close.
“The strategy options are fairly open here both with the number of stops and start tyre – as such it’s important that we can find a bit more pace before Sunday,” added the Mercedes engineer.