Practice analysis - postcard from Austria

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Formula One touched down in Austria for this weekend. The country plays host to the tenth race of the 2017 world championship season at the Red Bull Ring located near Zeltweg in the scenic Styrian mountains.

Weather and tyres

The weather has been kind to the F1 drivers throughout the day. With the ambient temperatures reaching the 29 Celsius degree and the track temperatures exceeding the 40 C degree mark, tyres were easier to manage both on long and short runs. However, many could get the best out of the tyres only on the second or third timed lap. Pirelli brought its softest compounds from its allocation to the fast Red Bull Ring, but even the ultrasofts proved to hold on well and deliver enough grip to set competitive times on the second or third timed lap. From the top teams, only Mercedes could get the ultrasofts into their working window for the very first hot lap while Ferrari managed it for the second attempt. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo set his best time of the day on his seventh lap of his qualifying simulation run while his team-mate Max Verstappen reached his best on his third lap.

Today's race simulation runs indicated that a one-stop strategy might be the standard again this weekend due to the low tyre degradation. Some teams experienced blistering on the ultrasofts while the softs did not show any advantage over the supersofts. It means the red-strip compound might be the favoured choice for most of the drivers.

Weather is expected to remain nice and sunny on Saturday, but Sunday might see showers over noon.


Mercedes dominated the action on Friday with Lewis Hamilton topping both free practices. The Briton set a lap time of 1:05.975 which became the actual lap record. The Tewin-born driver set the pace again in the afternoon's session with a 1:05.483. Hamilton recorded his best time on the softs in FP1 and on the ultrasofts in FP2.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was close to Hamilton in the second session, but the German was almost two tenths off the pace in the first sector. Mercedes set the best first sector of 16.562 with Valtteri Bottas and was constantly faster by about 2-3 tenths through that climb up to the third corner of the track over the longer runs as well. It further underlines the fact that Mercedes still has the most powerful power unit. Vettel was then the fastest in the second and third sector, but the German and the two Mercedes drivers were neck and neck in the last two sectors.

Over the race simulation runs, Ferrari completed longer runs than Mercedes as Hamilton lost valuable time after the team had to change spark plugs in his engine. Mercedes seemed to circle around the 4.3km circuit by about three tenths faster than Ferrari while completing race simulations. Bottas and Lewis gained most of that advantage on the uphill climb to the third corner.

The latest from Austria

Ferrari could return to its second internal combustion engine in Sebastian Vettel's car. That unit was debuted in Barcelona, but it was only used in the Saturday practice session after the squad encountered issues with that. It was then raced in Monaco and Canada, but when the team installed that for the final practice of the Azerbaijan GP, waterleak emerged on the German's SFD70-H. For precaution, mechanics then swapped that ICU-2 to the first one which has completed six races so far. After a thorough inspection back in Maranello, the team decided that the ICU-2 is still raceable and ditched that very age-old first unit for Austria which completed 4822km altogether.

Lewis Hamilton is set to take a 5-place grid penalty after Mercedes has to change his gearbox for Saturday. The team has been aware of the need of changing the unit since Tuesday. Units have to hold on six races, only exception is when a driver retires from a race which mean a 'free' change. Kimi Räikkönen and Max Verstappen will use new gearboxes because they did not finish the race in Baku while Williams' lance Stroll will also get a new unit after he used his previous one for six consecutive events.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen had to sit out the first part of the second free practice session after the team encountered brake woes on his RB13. The mechanics had to remove the underfloor for completing the work.

Some drivers believed the Austria kerbs are not designed for Formula 1. The so called 'baguette' kerb caused issues already last year, especially for Daniil Kvyat who was launched into the air after going over the kerbs and suffering rear damage between the last and second-to last corner. On Friday, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso both damaged their cars due to the yellow-marked kerbs, but Max Verstappen was the most vocal about the baguette kerbs by claiming: "The yellow kerbs again - luckily not too much damage. I think it's a lot of kerb for a Formula One car. The cars are not designed for it."

Honda introduced its latest specification of power unit for McLaren after a successful test conducted over the last Baku GP weekend. This is the third specification of the year and is believed to deliver more power. "It’s just an evolution of the engine. Clearly there is more performance coming out of the engine, so we can go faster, we have better power and better use of the engine," said team principal Eric Boullier.

American Haas F1 team also uses new engines. Both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen received their third power unit of the year which is the latest specification of Ferrari's 2017 unit. This is believed to deliver about 10bph more. The Scuderia will introduce it for its own cars in the next race in Silverstone.

Coming back to action after his first podium finish in Baku, Lance Stroll got a reprimand for crossing the white line at the pit entry at 15:14. This is the first reprimand for the Canadian driver.