T he training Friday ends with a surprise. Mercedes and Ferrari are traded as favorites in Sochi. But suddenly a Red Bull leads the field. And comfortable too. “The car is in good shape, the balance is right, the tires work as expected,” summarized Max Verstappen.
The 21-year-old Dutchman set the pace. The two-time season winner drove through the Sochi Autodrom on soft tires in 1: 33.162 minutes. With this lap time, Verstappen is almost two seconds above the pole position from last year. It was enough to leave the first chaser behind by more than three tenths of a second. This time Charles Leclerc did not say hello from the top, but has to accept second place.
Honda with small modifications
Engine partner Honda has small modifications to the V6 turbo for the Russian GP performed. There are therefore fresh engines for the two Red Bull and Toro Rosso drivers. And there are starting place penalties. Verstappen had joked on Thursday. 'Then I'll start sixth.' Which would only be possible with the fastest lap time on Saturday. Suddenly Red Bull seems to be more competitive on the Sochi motorized track than previously assumed.
Team mate Alexander Albon kept technical problems in the garage for long stretches of the second practice session. The 23 year old Thai will be annoyed. He needs every kilometer to become more familiar with the RB15. Albon finished in tenth place and only had 18 laps.
Ferrari landed in second and fifth. The fastest in the first training session, Charles Leclerc, steered his SF90 around the piste three tenths slower than Verstappen. On the medium tires, the Monegasse was the fastest man after the first few laps. But Red Bull found about half a second more than Ferrari on the softer mixture. That cannot be related to the fact that Verstappen burned his best time into the asphalt a few minutes later.
Sebastian Vettel still has to work on his car and the feeling for it. The Heppenheimer did not manage to get a reasonable lap on the soft tires. The increase was correspondingly small. The receipt was fifth, more than a second behind the top.
Mercedes has to stretch
What applies to Vettel also applies to Mercedes. The Silver Arrows were on the medium tires with the music, but fell off on the softest set. Valtteri Bottas achieved the best mark in the middle part of the route, but still lost over six tenths of a second on the 5.848 kilometers. After all, the Finn outshone his teammate. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth, eight tenths of a second behind.
In the past, the Sochi Autodrom was a track that the Silver Arrows liked. The team won all five editions. Will the series of successes break this year? Mercedes will have to stretch.
It wasn't just the balance of power at the top that was surprising. In midfield, Pierre Gasly turned the fastest lap in the Toro Rosso, albeit only a few thousandths faster than Sergio Perez and Nico Hülkenberg. It is known that Toro Rosso likes to let more fuel out of the tank than the competition on Friday training sessions. That was the case in Singapore a week ago, for example. Only qualifying will show whether Red Bull's junior team can keep their form.
McLaren has more resistance
Racing Point dedicated itself to aero tests in the first practice session. In the second exercise, the focus was shifted to the lap time. The upgrades of the last few weeks are apparently more and more effective. Lance Stroll followed Nico Hülkenberg in the second RP19 in the faster of the two Renaults.
McLaren seems to be facing significantly more resistance this weekend. In neither of the two training units was it enough for a top 10 placement - even if only just barely. HaasF1 and Alfa Romeo missed a place in the top half of the table by two tenths. Williams is 0.8 seconds short of midfield. George Russell gave yet another talent test. The 21-year-old Englishman was clearly faster than his teammate Robert Kubica.