Russian GP 2017

APRIL 28, 2017

Practice 2 Report - Unable to unlock


By Dan Knutson

Mercedes has had the fastest car at the Sochi track for the past three years, but in Free Practice 2 this year for the Russian Grand Prix Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were unable to unlock the best from the Pirelli tires. Ferrari teammates Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen posted the fastest lap times of the session.

The lineup for the weekend was: Mercedes - Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas; Red Bull TAG Heuer - Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen; Ferrari - Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen; Force India Mercedes - Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon; Williams Mercedes - Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll; McLaren Honda - Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne; Renault - Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer; Toro Rosso Renault - Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz; Haas Ferrari - Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen; Sauber Ferrari - Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein.

This is Formula 1's fourth visit to the Sochi circuit.

"I like the track," Vettel said. "There are a lot of corners that look very similar on paper, they feel actually very similar in the car but still it is fun. It is not an easy one to get the timing right mostly on corner entry, so difficult to get everything in one lap.

"Warm up has been an issue. In the last couple of years we saw people doing two laps in qualifying rather than one, so there are a couple of things to look out for. Friday will be an interesting day, an important one for us to get into a rhythm."

His teammate Raikkonen went quickest in FP1 with a time of 1:36.074 on the super soft Pirellis. The drivers also had the soft and ultra soft slicks available for the weekend.

Magnussen and Hulkenberg were out first in FP2.

The ambient temperature at the start of the 90-minute session was 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Centigrade.)

All the drivers were on the super soft slicks early in the session. Vettel set the pace with a 1:36.524. Raikkonen beat that with a 1:35.980, and then Hamilton did a 1:35.752. The latter then lowered his time to a 1:35.710.

Raikkonen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Bottas and Vettel rounded out the top six 20 minutes into FP2.

Raikkonen was the first to try the ultra softs and posted a 1:34.721 followed by a 1:34.383 on his third lap on the tires. Vettel went 0.097 of a second slower on the ultras. But then he clocked a 1:34.120.

Nico Rosberg's pole time last year in the Mercedes was a 1:35.417. He had turned the fastest time ever at the Sochi track with a 1:35.337 in Q2 last year.

Hamilton started his second run on the ultras 38 minutes into FP2 and did a 1:34.829. Bottas also had another go and ended with a 1:34.790. Both Mercedes drivers were having problems unlocking the best from their tires.

Ricciardo was fifth, 1.8 seconds slower than leader Vettel. Verstappen, Massa and Hulkenberg rounded out the top eight.

Verstappen then improved to a 1:35.540 to take over fifth place.

The top 10 were now Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Massa, Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Perez. And with the drivers doing long runs in the final third of FP2, that order remained unchanged. But the Mercedes cars were closer to the Ferraris on race pace.

Verstappen's run did not go well when the power unit quit and stranded him on the track at Turn 16. "Out of power," he radioed.

Grosjean, who ended up 14th, was struggling with the brakes, understeer, the clutch and had a spun as well.

So, is Mercedes really in trouble? Can the team unlock the tires? Is Ferrari that much faster? Qualifying and the race will answer those questions.