The first day of the first race weekend of the new season was certainly an interesting affair. While Mercedes confirmed their favourites tag, the front of the field seems to be very close, with Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and even Red Bull vieing for the best of the rest slot. However, with Mercedes suffering yet more technical gremlins, even the current frontrunners are not immune from the inherent issues of a radical regulation overhaul.
With so much for each and every driver to master in 2014, drivers were keen to head out onto the circuit and clock essential mileage to gain vital experience. This was assisted by the new tyre allowances for the first practice session, which permitted teams an additional set of tyres in the initial session. Consequently, the track was up to speed in no time – stark contrast to the dull and uninspiring FP1 sessions of yesteryear.
Lewis Hamilton’s day started in surprising fashion when his W05 suffered a sensor failure on its first installation lap. Despite missing the entire FP1 session, Hamilton bounced back in style, topping the timesheet in the more representative FP2. “It would have been great to have P1 but I got enough running in P2 and I feel comfortable in the car. It was a good day, I got a good understanding of the track and the car, and I feel positive,” Hamilton told Sky Sports News. Lewis is now the favourite for Pole Position in tomorrow’s qualifying session, yet will undoubtedly face stern competition from Nico Rosberg, who also looked impressive today, as Mercedes locked out the top two positions in FP2. Meanwhile, with Fernando Alonso appearing to have solid pace in his F14 T, the Spaniard could also contend for the higher regions of the grid, despite his tendencies to under-perform in qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of an untested force, since he suffered another technical glitch which derailed his progress in FP2.
Meanwhile, there is a strong possibility that Williams spent the day sandbagging. The Grove based outfit enjoyed a highly productive day, mirroring that of their pre-season venture, and despite finishing in P4 and P5 on the FP1 timesheet, they claimed midfield positions in the second session – Bottas in P8 and Massa in P12. However, Pat Symonds himself suggested that the times posted in FP2 were unrepresentative of Williams’ true pace, when speaking live on Sky Sports F1’s coverage. Felipe Massa expressed his positive interpretation of how his first weekend at Williams is progressing, stating, “The car didn’t show any problems which is very positive as reliability will be important this weekend. There is a lot for us to work on tonight to improve the set-up of the car, but on the whole this has been a positive day for us and we head in to the weekend happy with how things have gone so far.”
However, Red Bull Racing surly had the best day, as they miraculously enjoyed a full programme of running, clocking a lap total which equalled a third of their previous pre-season total. Both Vettel and Ricciardo demonstrated excellent pace, finishing P4 and P6 respectively. Red Bull seem to be finding reliability at last. Meanwhile, Lotus’ day was at the other end of the spectrum, as Pastor Maldonado suffered a smoky demise in FP1, while Romain Grosjean’s FP2 ended with a trip to the barriers after a suspected failure. The team have enough issues on their plate ahead of qualifying, without the need to replace a corner of Romain’s E22.
Apologies for the short Friday Analysis tonight. I was completing AS Geography fieldwork in London all day and it has been a race against time. Normal coverage will resume from tomorrow.