Friday running at Circuit Paul Ricard saw plenty of drivers struggling with the record-high track temperatures, but evaluating the battle up-front, the data suggests it will be another clean sweep for Mercedes in their bid to maintain their 100% win rate in 2019.
After analyzing both qualifying and race trims for the Mercedes and Ferrari challenge, the competition up-front is unlikely to be as hot as it was just two weeks ago in Montreal, where Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel grabbed pole from Lewis Hamilton, and looked on course for victory until that controversial penalty that the paddock in France are still debating.
In terms of outright qualifying pace, the ball is very much in the hands of Mercedes. Using a multiplier effect from the times in FP2, it gives us a clear idea of the pecking order come qualifying. Both Mercedes and Ferrari are expected to break the 1 minute-28s barrier, with Mercedes expected to hold a 0.4s advantage over their rivals Mercedes – which suggests more focus on an intra-team battle at Mercedes, rather than a Mercedes vs Ferrari shootout.
Ferrari engines turned down
With the stress of power here at Circuit Paul Ricard, it could be that Ferrari are running with their power units turned down. The evidence from Canada could just suggest this. When Vettel was leading the Canadian Grand Prix, F1 Hub understands Ferrari allowed Vettel to run in higher engine modes for a longer time than planned, in order to hold off Lewis Hamilton given the Scuderia’s win drought, before the penalty was announced of course.
Even more so, Ferrari fitted their new power unit at the Spanish Grand Prix, whilst most of their rivals took upgrades at the last race at Canada, which gives Ferrari more races to cover under this particular power unit.
The speed trap data from FP2 does indeed back the assumption that Ferrari were running lower engine modes. The fastest Ferrari, Leclerc, hit only 329.5 kmph, whilst pacesetter Bottas hit 334 kmph. This was unusual as in 2019 Ferrari normally head the speed traps, which could indicate there is more to come from the Ferrari challenge tomorrow.
Mercedes soared even further ahead of Ferrari in the long-runs. Both teams ran simulations during practice on both the soft and medium tyres, and it quickly became clear that the soft tyre is not likely to be a viable race tyre, with both Mercedes drivers not managing a stint more than four laps on the red-marked rubber.
With medium compound tyre the optimum race tyre, competitiveness on it would be key to success in Sunday’s race. On that front, Mercedes had a clear advantage, with Valtteri Bottas averaging a 1.36.043 on his medium run, whilst Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel averaged a 1.36.790 (outlier laps not included in averages).
With the Mercedes team leading the way in both short and long run teams, Ferrari face an uphill battle to stop the Silver Arrows scoring their 8th victory of the 2019 Formula 1 season.