Free Practice analysis: 2021 Formula One Austrian GP
The Free Practice sessions for the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix allowed the teams to rectify the errors that emerged during the Styrian Grand Prix. The Red Bulls were strong in all three sessions even though Mercedes-AMG F1 topped the timesheet in FP2. The colder temperatures seemed to work better for the Silver Arrows while the hotter conditions got the best out of the Red Bull RB16B car. Moreover, just before the start of FP3, Lewis Hamilton signed a contract with Mercedes confirming a two-year extension till 2023. The fate of his teammate Valtteri Bottas is yet to be confirmed though. The speculation of rain for Sunday is kept to rest for now as new predictions claim a 0 per cent chance of rain for the Grand Prix on Sunday. The FP1 session saw young drivers, including current Formula 2 drivers, to let them get up to speed with a Formula One car. Guanyu Zhou stood in for Fernando Alonso at Alpine, Callum Ilott for Antionio Giovinazzi in the Alfa Romeo car and Roy Nissany for George Russell at Williams. A prototype medium compound tyre was also introduced during the practice sessions which was constructed to be more robust than the current in use.
Let’s break down the session and see what we learnt.
Free Practice 1
The air temperature during FP1 was recorded to be at a chilly 19 degree celsius which was low when compared to the temperatures recorded on the last race weekend. This session also served as a testing ground for Pirelli as they brought a new test tyre for the teams to experiment with. This tyre was a prototype C4 medium compound tyre with a higher resistance to lateral loads and higher stiffness over the currently used medium compound tyres. The test tyre is planned to be introduced at the Silverstone GP. Teams had been supplied two sets of the test tyre which could be used in either of the Friday practice sessions. The reason for these tyres to be introduced in the first place is to avoid incidents like Max and Lance’s blowouts from Baku.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the fastest lap of the session with a time of 1:05.143sec. He was on a soft compound tyre simulation for most of the session. Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were two-tenths of a second behind Verstappen and secured P2 and P3 for the session. Lewis Hamilton and Vatteri Bottas were not too keen on pushing their W12 to the limits in the first session of the day. Four of Lewis’ laps were deleted from the timesheet due to exceeding track limits. Bottas stood fourth on the timesheet at the end of FP1, while the seven-time world champion came seventh.
Lance Stroll from Aston Martin Racing had a difficult session as it was peppered by incidents. He went off at turn six and spun again at the final corner of the track, thankfully missing the barrier on both the occasions. He ended up in P13 in the timesheet ahead of his teammate Sebastian Vettel in P15.
The session also saw some new faces on the track. Formula 2 championship leader, Guanyu Zhou made his FP1 debut for Alpine as he stepped in for Fernando Alonso. He secured P14 as he set his benchmark time on the medium compound tyres. He also received positive feedback for his session from Alonso. Callum Ilott stood in for Antonio Giovinazzi at Alfa Romeo and finished P16. Lastly, Israeli driver Roy Nissany was given a chance to take George Russell’s Williams. He finished P18 with a solid drive ahead of teammate Nicolas Latifi.
Free Practice 2
Thick clouds and spits of rain were the highlights of this session. The air temperature dropped to a chilly 18 degrees celsius while the track temperature was recorded at 30 degrees celsius. Teams were seen testing the second set of the prototype C4 tyres which Pirelli provided for the Friday sessions. The drivers and teams looked to be performing their race simulations by the second half of the session. The light drizzle had also made the track colder and slippery. However, the teams wanted the drivers to stay out on the track, to gauge how their cars were performing in the wet.
Mercedes topped the timesheets in FP2 with Hamilton at P1 with a time of 1:04.532sec and teammate Vatteri Bottas coming in at P2, with a time of 1:04.712. The Mercedes W12 car seemed to work better in the colder conditions when compared to Red Bull. Karun Chandok also added that Mercedes hasn’t generally performed well in high altitude areas previously either. This is due to the lack of high density air which creates a difference in the spinning of the turbo fans. Therefore as the temperatures were low for the sessions, the increased air density was helping the Mercedes get the most out of their turbochargers.
Max Verstappen finished P3 for the session behind the Mercedes duo. When Max asked to return to the pits during the light rain spell, his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase told him to stay out and experience the conditions as similar conditions could be expected on the Sunday GP. His teammate Sergio Perez on the other hand, finished P11 as he could not string a competitive flying lap together.
Aston Martin came in strong for the second session with Lance finishing fourth and Vettel securing fifth. Both Vettel and Stroll used DRS during their race simulations. The British team was closely followed by the Italian Alpha Tauris. Yuki Tsunoda finished sixth ahead of his teammate Pierre Gasly in seventh.
Ferrari tested their race pace for the entire session and did not push the engine to the edge. Charles Leclerc had a difficult session with multiple lockups at turn one and turn three. Carlos Sainz managed to finish ahead of his teammate in P13 while Charles finished P16. The Ferrari didn’t seem to be enjoying the colder temperatures and the softer compound tyres that were chosen by Pirelli.
Free Practice 3
The temperatures returned to more usual conditions in the third practice session. The air temperature was 23 degrees celsius and the track temperature was close to 46 degrees celsius. Most of the teams tested the prototype C4 tyre in the first stint of the practice. The more robust prototype tyres allowed the teams to use them at a lower tyre pressure which is close to the ideal requirements of the teams. Track evolution was another standing aspect that was seen during the later stages of the session.
There was a lot of buzz around the Mercedes-AMG F1 paddock as Lewis Hamilton signed a contract with the Brackley-based team for another two years. In the third practice session though, Lewis seemed to be struggling to match the pace of his title rival, especially through the second sector of the track. Lewis was particularly struggling with the car at turn three where he was braking too early and was trying to carry too much speed into the corner, according to his race engineer. He finished in P3 in the timesheets and was six-tenths of a second behind Max. Bottas, who is yet to renew his contract with the team, secured P2 but was five-tenths of a second behind Max.
The hotter conditions seemed to be beneficial for Red Bull’s RB16B. Max was flying through the circuit and set a dominant lap time of 1:4.059sec. The front-end grip of the car was one of highlights of the RB16B and could be seen as the car exited turn 10. Perez on the other hand was struggling to match his teammate on outright pace throughout the session.
Pierre Gasly finished P4 on the timesheet showing good pace throughout the session. Yuki Tsunoda managed to finish P12. However, this was not an indication of his true pace as he was running on a different programme to his teammate.
The Aston Martins yet again showed strong pace in the session. But this time, the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel finished P10, ahead of Lance Stroll at P11.
The Free Practice sessions indicate that Max Verstappen could claim pole at the Austrian GP but Mercedes are not far behind. Moreover, the fuel loads run by the teams are unknown. To find out, you can tune into Hotstar or Star Sports Select HD 2 at 6:30 pm IST to see the Qualifying session of the Austrian GP.