Chaos Reigns: How Traffic, Red Flags, and Rain Unleashed Uncertainty in Australian Grand Prix's Friday Practice, Setting the Stage for a Critical Final Practice
Notable observations emerged, providing a glimpse of what lies ahead for the weekend at Albert Park.
Red Bull Racing Dominates Qualifying Trim
Red Bull Racing appeared to be the team to beat in the qualifying trim during Friday's practice sessions ahead of the race. However, it's important to take Friday's data with a grain of salt as the fuel loads and programs of each team remain unknown.
Max Verstappen, a two-time world champion, had difficulty getting into a rhythm due to slippery track conditions that made it difficult to gauge the car's performance. Sergio Perez, his teammate, was also cautious about the team's performance on Friday but made changes that were a step forward. According to data analysis, Red Bull Racing's RB19 is 0.14 seconds faster than the rest of the field in the qualifying trim. Unfortunately, there weren't enough consecutive running laps to determine accurate long-run data. Despite this, Red Bull Racing is a favorite to secure the front row and a third successive one-two finish on race day.
Ferrari Displays Stronger Than Expected Performance
Despite a challenging weekend in Saudi Arabia, Ferrari appears to have found their footing at Albert Park. While the team did not bring any updates to the Australian Grand Prix, both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz expressed optimism after the Friday practice sessions.
Leclerc stated that they explored various setup variations and felt they were headed in the right direction. While they may not have the speed to compete with Red Bull Racing, data analysis shows they are the second fastest in qualifying pace and are 0.14 seconds ahead of their rivals, Aston Martin.
It's unclear how their race pace compares to the competition since there was limited running, but tire degradation isn't as significant an issue at Albert Park as it was in Jeddah. Given that tire degradation has been a significant issue for the team this year, this bodes well for Ferrari's performance.
Aston Martin Shows Strong Potential
Fernando Alonso had a successful Friday practice, topping the FP2 session despite the soggy conditions. Although his leading time does not indicate his car's true performance, a vehicle that performs well in wet conditions usually indicates good downforce and competitiveness in dry conditions. Despite being unable to complete a clean lap on fresh soft tires, Alonso and his teammate Lance Stroll were still able to secure third place in the qualifying simulation pace rankings.
The team's confidence in their package was evident, with most of their FP1 session focused on testing before switching to weekend-focused learning in the afternoon. Alonso has previously demonstrated impressive performance at this track, and with a car that is the second-best on pure pace, he may have a good chance of securing a front-row start.
Hamilton and Russell's contrasting days in practice
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell had different days at the Albert Park circuit, with Mercedes finishing fourth in one-lap pace rankings. Hamilton made some changes after the first practice session which didn't quite work, and he'll be looking to revert them in the evening.
Meanwhile, Russell was satisfied with his changes, which put the car "in a nice window." While they don't expect to challenge the Red Bulls this weekend, if they show a decent long-run pace, they should be able to push for a top-five finish with both cars.
Mercedes has an advantage over the rest of the teams, with Alpine being the next best, 0.43s adrift in a one-lap pace. Therefore, they should comfortably be top-eight qualifiers, but that's below their high targets and reflects their current form.