The first sessions of the fledgling European season saw familiar names at the top of the timesheet. Ferrari may have bolted an ambitious 16 individual upgrades onto the car, reforming much of their aero package, but it was Mercedes who controlled day one of the event, with Rosberg and Hamilton sharing top honors and displaying impressive race pace to compliment their ever-present short run credentials. With plenty of comparatively unfamiliar faces taking advantage of track time at a venue that everyone knows so well, today had more talking points than I can possibly plough through in under 1000 words – but let’s make an attempt…
Quality vs Quantity
As I mentioned in Wednesday’s weekend preview, the next handful of races will be critical to Ferrari’s ever changing road map. This is a period within which we should finally be able to make firm conclusions regarding their status in the title race. Either they are potent challengers, or nothing more than a distant threat – at least, in 2015.
The team have certainly opted for an aggressive stance in terms of what could be an equally integral development race. 16 individual upgrade items were reportedly fitted to the SF15-T for today’s running, with a number of these being visibly noticeable as bodywork enhancements. Of course, each and every team were testing upgrades today, but given the intensity of the attention on Ferrari at the moment, their upgrades are topics for scrutiny.
Quantity and quality is a powerful combination, but it remains to be seen if Ferrari have achieved such a feat. Bringing a haul of upgrades in one package is typically risky, as it has the potential to shroud any individual articles which do not live up to the billing. It makes specific issues harder to locate. As such, their chief rivals have taken a more measured approach. Mercedes have opted to ensure quality control, by fitting narrowly tailored upgrades to the W06, in a bid to win this chapter of the development race using a tortoise strategy.
We all know how the hare fared in that particular contest and in this instance, the tortoise even has a head start, as acknowledged by Sebastian Vettel, who leading up to the weekend has continued to emphasise “the gap” that still exists between his team and the 2014 champions.
This much publicised gap was in focus today, as Mercedes topped the timesheet in both session, however, they also emerged as the pace-setters in the long runs. Undoubtedly, Ferrari had distractions today in the form of their barrage of upgrades, (as highlighted in the radio communications between Kimi Raikkonen and Dave Greenwood), and perhaps this deterred from their pace in the latter stages of FP2. At face value, Mercedes head into the heart of the weekend with a margin, but I would not be surprised if this was eroded, even if only slightly, as Sunday approaches.
Keeping The Seat Warm
The Circuit de Catalunya often sees upcoming talent take to the track in FP1. Considering that the circuit is typically the testing heartland in late February and early March, many of the development and reserve drivers can arrive on a Friday morning and immediately dial in to a track which they are familiar with. Jolyon Palmer’s spin inside the first 30 minutes at Shanghi was typical of a driver unfamiliar of a circuit but looking to make the most of their opportunity. This weekend provided the best chance for the periphery players to show their skills.
Palmer was among those who delivered. On his third outing for Lotus, he rarely appeared on screen, but quietly worked through the schedule and appeared well-clear of teammate Pastor Maldonado on the timesheet. While the timing tower is fairly academic in FP1, today will look good on the Briton’s CV.
Susie Wolff earned another session alongside Felipe Massa and compared well against the Brazilian. Raffaele Marciello was certainly pushing the limits in the Sauber and endured an exploratory trip over the kerb on the exit of Turn 9, which will have undoubtedly caught Marcus Ericsson’s attention. Fortunately, no damage was done.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.828
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.070
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.978
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1.004
5 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1.304
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1.701
7 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1.957
8 Felipe Massa Williams 2.003
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 2.247
10 Felipe Nasr Sauber 2.312
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 2.581
12 Raffaele Marciello Sauber 2.802
13 Jolyon Palmer Lotus 2.848
14 Susie Wolff Williams 2.880
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 2.985
16 Jenson Button McLaren 2.989
17 Sergio Perez Force India3.268
18 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 3.282
19 Will Stevens Manor 5.643
20 Roberto Merhi Manor 5.819
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:26.852
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.408
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 0.764
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 0.928
5 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1.091
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1.165
7 Jenson Button McLaren 1.642
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1.673
9 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1.822
10 Felipe Massa Williams 1.860
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1.871
12 Romain Grosjean Lotus 2.234
13 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 2.246
14 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 2.365
15 Felipe Nasr Sauber 2.481
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 2.509
17 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 2.749
18 Sergio Perez Force India 2.855
19 Will Stevens Manor 5.077
20 Roberto Merhi Manor 5.899