The contrast between the two free practice sessions on Friday of the United States Grand Prix could hardly be greater. Mercedes dominated FP1, but Red Bull parried both the qualifying and race pace in FP2. Does Mercedes rightly fear Red Bull on the way to qualifying?
Red Bull was at the top of the times list with Sergio Perez after the second free practice for the United States Grand Prix, but Lewis Hamilton’s lap time that was taken from him was a tenth faster than the eventual fastest day of Perez. Moreover, Hamilton lost time with his wide line rather than gained time with it, so in theory it could all be a little faster.
Even so, Perez might have conceded two tenths to Hamilton, which is certainly not a big gap. And what Perez should be able to do, Verstappen can usually do too. The Dutchman did not clock a fast time, because he reported somewhat annoyed over the on-board radio that the timing of his performance run at the busiest moment of training was downright bad. Those small differences are a big contrast to the almost full second that Red Bull had to deal with earlier in the day.
Had Mercedes lost ground? ‘Yes,’ said Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin. Helmut Marko, on the other hand, mainly saw that his own team had made steps: “Our car is not easy to adjust. We had no grip at all in the morning session, certainly not in the slow corners. But the measures we took afterwards have had their effect. paid off,” the Red Bull adviser is quoted as saying by Auto, Motor und Sport.
Verstappen vs. Hamilton race
If we look at the performance of both Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in the long runs, where Verstappen bet on after his performance run was killed by traffic, we see that the two are hardly inferior to each other.
Yes, the faster times are high 40s for the World Champion (he averaged two tenths faster), but he split his stint into two rounds of four consecutive laps, with one cool down lap in between. Max Verstappen, on the other hand, drove eleven consecutive laps at race speed. He didn’t go below 41.3, but he drove very constant times. In addition, he drove that 41.3 in the last part of his run, which shows that he knows how to keep his tires good for a long time.
And that can sometimes be decisive. In fact, according to Helmut Marko, that will be the deciding factor on Sunday: “Whoever knows how to manage his tires best will be first on Sunday afternoon,” said Marko. And let Mercedes just let you know that the tire management was not good in VT2.
Two trumps for Red Bull
It was striking that teammate Sergio Perez was not only the fastest man of the day, Red Bull also had nothing to complain about the Mexican in terms of race pace. Like Hamilton, he was also able to dive below 1.41 at times, something the other ‘second driver’, Valtteri Bottas failed to do. In any case, the Finn drops out on Sunday afternoon when he is put five places back on the grid. If the omens are correct, it may just be that Hamilton will have to face two equal Red Bulls on Sunday. That has also been different.
The big question now is which team did the best work in the night from Friday to Saturday. Red Bull already managed to take the most important steps between the two training sessions, while Mercedes just lost track a bit there. It must be assumed that Mercedes should be able to regain some of that lost time and then it will be interesting to see if Verstappen is armed enough to really take on Mercedes. Mercedes itself assumes that two Red Bulls will report in the battle for pole position. That would be good news for both Red Bull fans and neutral viewers.