Formula 1 fans got their first proper impression of the 2020 pecking order during Free Practice 2 of the Austrian Grand Prix, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton topping his second session of the day as the teams unleashed their first qualifying simulations of the season.
Hamilton finished the dry session 0.197s ahead of his team mate Valtteri Bottas, to follow up Mercedes’ 1-2 from Free Practice 1 on Friday morning, Hamilton setting a 1m 04.304s – 0.512s faster than he went in FP1, although still over a second shy of Charles Leclerc’s pole time for Ferrari last year.
The only cloud on Mercedes’ horizon was a late issue for Bottas which prevented him changing gear, causing the Finn to pit early from the session with 10 minutes to go.
While Mercedes’ dominant performance would have raised some eyebrows, it was arguably the speed of Racing Point that was even more impressive, with Sergio Perez P3, 0.641s adrift of Hamilton in the contentious ‘Pink Mercedes’ RP20, as the team appeared to confirm the strong pace many observers suspected it had after winter testing.
FORMULA 1 ROLEX GROSSER PREIS VON ÖSTERREICH 2020
Practice 2 results
|3 SergioPEREZRacing Point||+0.641s|
Narrowly behind Perez came the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel in fourth, the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo in fifth and the McLaren of Lando Norris in the same sixth place he finished last year’s race, while the sister Racing Point of Lance Stroll was P7.
Whether Red Bull are keeping their powder dry or not at the racetrack where they’ve won for the previous two years remains to be seen, but the best the team could manage on Friday afternoon with Max Verstappen’s P8, over nine-tenths off Hamilton’s time – although Verstappen later told the media that he’d damaged his front wing on his flying lap.
The Dutchman compounded his low-key afternoon with an off through the gravel at Turn 6, his RB16 appearing to display some of the skittishness that affected it back at pre-season testing in Barcelona. His team mate Albon in P13 had his own issues, too, spinning at Turn 1 with 25 minutes to go, just as Verstappen had done in FP1.
Verstappen finished 0.083s ahead of ninth placed Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari, while McLaren’s Carlos Sainz overcame front wing damage on the kerbs at the exit of Turn 6 to round out the top 10.
It was a challenging maiden FP2 appearance for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi, meanwhile, as he finished 20th out of 20 drivers, a second off his team mate George Russell’s P18 time, and having suffered a spin at Turn 1 and an overshoot at Turn 3 early in the session – while 12th placed Daniil Kvyat had a similar Turn 1 spin in the AlphaTauri AT01.
So, after the first real sense of where the order is in 2020, it’s Mercedes with a handsome advantage early doors – while from the evidence of FP2 in Austria, Racing Point look as though they could very much be a thorn in the side of Red Bull and Ferrari in this unprecedented season.