until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Mark Hughes: The few clues offered up by a very odd F1 Friday

by Mark Hughes
3 min read

Given that any meaningful FP2 running in Abu Dhabi was compressed into little more than 15 minutes after Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg had each brought out red flags, the numbers are almost meaningless.

Some got straight into long runs (there was time for five-six laps), others did a low-fuel sim then changed. Yet others did two or three consecutive laps before pitting for a low-fuel run.

Charles Leclerc did the fastest time of the session on the first lap of what was to be his long-run sequence. Max Verstappen - who did the best pitlane overtakes, that much can be said - put in a couple of laps each on the mediums and softs.

But there were totally different run-plan reactions to the session and not enough laps for those who did put a sequence of four or five of them together to really initiate any tyre deg patterns.

Of the handful who did some consecutive laps, we can frame the Ferrari vs Mercedes battle for second in the constructors' championship and Williams's task in holding off AlphaTauri for seventh.

Long run averages

Norris 1m27.44s (4 laps)
Ricciardo 1m27.89s (4 laps)
Albon 1m28.17s (5 laps)
Leclerc 1m 28.28s (6 laps)
Tsunoda 1m28.31s (4 laps)
Russell 1m28.46s (5 laps)

All times on mediums apart from Leclerc (softs)

The fact that Leclerc was able to do a very consistent series of laps on the soft tyres despite having pushed hard enough on the set's first lap to head the times suggests Ferrari - which has cut Mercedes' almost season-long constructors' championship edge to four points in the fight for second - is in a good place.

However, that comes with the heavy caveat that we have even less data on the team because of Sainz's early FP2 exit, and a lack of other 'long' runs on the softs.

We really don’t know how it compares to Red Bull (which averaged slower than Lando Norris's McLaren) but looking at the comparison to George Russell's Mercedes (like Norris, on mediums) the similar average is quite misleading because Russell prepared his tyres very cautiously on the first lap. After that, he was generally a couple of tenths faster than the Ferrari.

Is that a function of the tyre difference? Or genuine? The numbers come with a serious health warning and it's not abundantly clear who has the edge, after Russell topped a rookie-filled FP1 for Mercedes.

"We only did only one lap on the medium and then straight away a lap on the soft and it was feeling pretty good," said Leclerc.

"But it's true that also Mercedes looked very strong; I don't know what happened exactly in FP2, they looked a little less strong compared to FP1. We've still got a lot of work to do because we know we will be fighting with them this weekend.

"I think we are going to go into the race with as much information as we do in the sprint weekends, maybe, where we have very little info. We'll try to maximise the little information we have, but normally it's one of our strong points. I hope we can take advantage of that and beat Mercedes."

Russell meanwhile added: "I felt good out there. The long-run pace seems good, which is going to be most important. I think it’s going to be close out there with the likes of Lando and maybe Charles."

Similarly, Daniel Ricciardo's averages look very good indeed on the mediums, slotting in between Norris and Russell and with an edge on Alex Albon's Williams which is nonetheless very quick in the fast sweeps of sector one.

And what of Verstappen and Red Bull? The world champion was third in the times but complained of his car "jumping like a kangaroo" in the final sector, and there was little to be gleaned about long-run pace given he and team-mate Segio Perez set their fastest times at the end.

"The balance is very off," said Verstappen. "A lot of understeer, a lot of jumping. Definitely a few things to figure out for tomorrow."

But Russell was under no illusions. "We always know Red Bull have obviously got a lot more in their pocket."

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