Ferrari are quickly facing the prospect of heading a first winless Formula 1 campaign since the 2016 Formula One season, with no sign of the mighty Mercedes team backing down, having scored 100% of the wins thus far in 2019. However, from the neutral perspective, Friday running in Austria may just have hinted at a classic Mercedes vs Ferrari duel just when the sport needs it the most.
Amongst all the crashes, spins and broken front wings, Charles Leclerc emerged on top from FP2 with a headline time of a 1.05.086, but more importantly was the only front-runner to complete a qualifying simulation in the chaos of FP2.
While the incomplete runs leave a grey area on which team go to qualifying favorite, there is actually great evidence that Ferrari could repeat Canada and claim another pole position. While the two Mercedes drivers didn’t complete their qualifying runs, Hamilton set first and second sector times, and if they are compared to Leclerc’s run, the Ferrari driver holds a 0.513s advantage at the end of the middle sector, when compared to Hamilton’s sector times.
It is no surprise that the speedy Ferrari’s are turning heads in Austria. The circuit design was expected to suit the characteristics of the Ferrari, where it is reaping a big advantage down the straights, with little to no emphasis on long corners as we had last week at Circuit Paul Ricard.
While drivers didn’t get the opportunity to set qualifying laps due to the chaos that was taking place, there was plenty of long-run data that was collected throughout the running at the Red Bull Ring.
As it has been for the majority of 2019, the ball swung back in Mercedes’ favor when it came to long-runs. Interestingly, the stint average of Mercedes and Ferrari on the soft compound tyre are quite similar – in fact in between a tenth of each other, which will bode well for the race.
However, when it comes to the hard tyre, Mercedes very much has the advantage here. As we have seen through the season – even at the controversial Canadian Grand Prix, Vettel and Ferrari were able to pull out a sizable advantage on the softer rubber, but in the second stint, when the harder rubber was fitted, Hamilton quickly ate into Vettel’s advantage – inevitably forcing that error.
It may prove to be a similar situation here at the Red Bull Ring, as the Mercedes’ average is almost 0.9s/lap clear of the Scuderia on the hardest compound Pirelli have brought to the Austrian Grand Prix.
Ferrari’s lack of pace on the hard tyres may make for an interesting second half of the Austrian Grand Prix, should Ferrari be able to get pole position and head the early phases of the race. Both teams are certain to run the hard compound, as it is set to be a one-stop race, with the teams starting on soft or medium rubber (Mercedes/Ferrari may opt to start on medium rubber given their pace advantage for more options), and then going onto the hard rubber to get them to the checkered flag.