D as was the feared slap in the face for the competition . For two days, the Formula 1 world lived in the hope that there could be an exciting three-way battle between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull at the top. And that the projections after the test drives in Barcelona may only have been a snapshot for a very specific route with a new, unique asphalt. There were enough signs in the three free practice sessions that the field is closer than Barcelona would have us believe. Even five sixths of the qualification gave this impression.
Q1 went to Hamilton 0.272 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. No end of the world. Sebastian Vettel was ahead in Q2. His lead over the Mercedes: 0.106 seconds. And even in the first attempt in Q3 there was nothing to suggest a walk for Hamilton. The Englishman had taken the lead with 1.22.051 minutes, but Sebastian Vettel was only 34 thousandths back, and Max Verstappen was also within reach with a gap of 0.061 seconds.
But then the GP community was at 6:10 p.m. local time removed any illusion that Mercedes could face serious competition. Lewis Hamilton undercut last year's pole position by a second with a dream time of 1.21.164 minutes and made the direct opponents look like extras. Raikkonen was 0.664 seconds off the Mercedes, at Verstappen it was 0.715 seconds. Even if you subtract two tenths from the Dutchman for an error in curve 13, the picture only looks slightly friendlier. Vettel also left one and a half tenths of a second in the medium-fast right-hand bend. That would have reduced his deficit to half a second. 'We drive in normal Formula 1. Mercedes is in a different world,' said Red Bull Motorsport Director Helmut Marko in frustration. Vettel doesn't see it as dramatic: 'I see the difference at four tenths.'
Is there the ominous party mode?
There are different versions of it like Hamilton circulating a second was able to conjure up just like that out of the hat for his first attempt. Red Bull put it fully on the engine factor, which in their opinion mobilizes at least half a second. Vettel also addressed the 'party mode' that Hamilton had wanted on the radio on Friday. After qualifying, Hamilton didn't want any of the mysteriousPower button know. 'There is no party mode,' said the champion to Vettel. 'I drove the same mode from Q2 to Q3.' Internally, the 'Strat 3' is called.
Niki Lauda describes the information from the competition about the extent of the afterburner as greatly exaggerated. “We win a tenth, nothing more.” That would be in the same range as Ferrari's qualifying mode. When asked how much extra power Renault mobilized in the highest power level, Red Bull said: “Two hundredths.” Marko assumes that Mercedes only played with the opponents: “They demonstrated in the last round that they were just kidding us all in the past few weeks. When Mr. Wolff says that Ferrari has the most powerful engine, I can only laugh. Hopefully Ferrari was born today. Mercedes finally dropped its pants. Probably by mistake. “
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff ascribes the explosion at the end of the practice mainly to his driver: “If we compare all lap times over the weekend, Ferrari and Red Bull were always close. Only this one round stands out. Lewis got them there perfectly. He had the tires right there in the window. We saw a level of grip that we would never have thought possible. ”Vettel considers this theory to be realistic:“ There are laps where you have the tires in such a way that they have optimal grip everywhere. ”Red Bull technical director Adrian Newey shakes his head: “We are as fast as Mercedes in the corners. Although they drive with shovels in the stern. Nevertheless, we continuously lose 8 km /h on the straights. ”According to Newey's theory, Ferrari should be really worried. The red cars were as fast as Mercedes on the straights. That means they lose all time in the corners.
Hamilton's secret of the warm-up lap
One point was forgotten by the analysts when trying to explain Hamilton's increase on his last lap. The Englishman had to make the first attempt in Q3 with a set of tires that had been badly used.Hamilton was already in the second sector when he was called off because of the accident of teammate Valtteri Bottas. Everyone else was able to slow down much earlier and therefore had comparatively more intact tires on the car in the first Q3 attempt. After the Bottas crash in Turn 2, Hamilton allowed himself a little more room for improvement at this point. That may also have been a reason why he fell short of his potential on the first attempt, but still set the fastest time.
According to Mercedes chief engineer Andrew Shovlin, the condition of the tires played a very decisive role in the lap time. “The working window has become smaller again this year. It's harder to get the tires into the window and they'll fall out quicker at the top. Here in Melbourne especially the rear tires. The tires tend to be too cold in the first sector and too hot in the last. Lewis prepared them so well that he was well in the window in all three sectors. ”
When comparing the warm-up lap, it is noticeable that Vettel drove them seven seconds faster than Hamilton. And lost three tenths to the Englishman in the first sector. Hamilton got the majority of it in the first corner. No one was there faster than him. 'We thought Lewis would never get the corner as fast as he drove in there,' Wolff wondered. Niki Lauda even put the secret of the Hamilton lap mainly on the tire preparation for the decisive lap: 'It's unbelievable how Lewis brought the tires into the window and then kept them in there.'
Because the arguments flew back and forth, let's take the trouble to analyze the top speeds and sector times. As a reminder, Sector 1 is the power section. It consists of the two DRS straights, the chicane after the start and finish and two slow corners. The last section with six curves of all radii says the most about the quality of the chassis. Here's the comparison:
The speeds on the straight show that Ferrari needn't fear Mercedes. Red Bull is lagging far behind, which Mercedes blames on the high air resistance due to the RB14's strong angle of attack. The clear best time in sector 1 is a mix of good top speed and Hamilton's trust in his car and the grip of the tires at the beginning of the lap. In the third sector, Mercedes and Red Bull are tied if we deduct the two tenths for the error at Verstappen. Ferrari is three tenths missing there, and that is either due to the aerodynamics or to hot tires.
Despite starting positions 2 and 3, the Ferrari drivers sat with long faces at the press conference. They know that Mercedes is actually too big again and that Red Bull could just as well have stood in front of them. “The distance is too great. We still have to do some homework, ”admitted Vettel. His hopes rests on the race. 'We havewe have seen in the last three years that we are always closer to Mercedes on Sunday than on Saturday. ”
Is this hope justified this time too? “During the racing simulations on Saturday we were close together,” Vettel calculates. However, Mercedes recognized on its GPS that Ferrari had simulated much less fuel savings in its logruns than it did itself. Experience shows that normally it should be the other way around. Such a picture would also contradict the racing simulations in the Barcelona tests. 'If they drive the same way in the race, we would have a problem,' admits Shovlin. The Mercedes engineer didn't really want to believe in it. It is different with Red Bull's alternative tire tactics: “They are more flexible than we are when they start on supersoft tires because they can choose whether to drive the second stint with ultrasoft or soft. Ferrari and we are almost forced to switch to soft tires with normal racing. It's going to be difficult for us to stretch out the first stint long enough to risk an ultra soft. ”The question is whether such a tire advantage helps. Overtaking is almost impossible in Melbourne.