F1’s world champions and driver start fastest in Austria; But are Racing Point about to challenge for supremacy behind? Watch Austrian GP qualifying on Sky Sports F1 at 2pm on Saturday
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 03/07/20 8:15pm
Lewis Hamilton believes it is prematurily . to speculate about any early-season Mercedes advantage after a dominant start to the summer season in Friday practice in Austria.
But while Mercedes’ double one-two on the opening day undoubtedly confirmed their pre-season status of favourites, the practice timesheets also appeared to serve as further evidence that Racing Point have made a bigger step of progress for 2020 than any team.
Only Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas were quicker than Sergio Perez around the Red Bull Ring on Friday.
“It was a good day. I think we’ve definitely shown that the car has great potential,” said Perez to Sky Sports F1.
“I think the people home in the factory did a tremendous job. I’m really excited for the year to start out.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but things are looking good. Hopefully tomorrow we’re still up there when everybody puts it together and we see where many people are.”
Team-mate Lance Stroll was seventh fastest and the Canadian, starting his fourth season of F1, said the RP20 was the very best car he’d driven round the Red Bull Ring “by a long way”.
Can anybody catch Mercedes?
On the data of the very first two practice sessions, it could already be considered a surprise to see anybody but Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas on pole position on Saturday in one of the newly black-liveried Mercedes cars.
Hamilton topped both sessions from Bottas – by 0.356s and 0.197s respectively – and admitted it felt “great to be back” having not driven the W11 in 18 weeks.
“What’s positive could be the car was feeling good today and definitely feels as though in general in comparison to last year we now have continued to boost the car,” said Hamilton, who has only won once in six attempts in Austria.
“So that is a massive positive.”
Asked about where Mercedes saw the primary threat originating from at this stage, Hamilton said: “It’s difficult to state. It’s absolutely looking good out there [for Mercedes] but you are able to never simply take too much from practice.
“If you look some of the other teams are maybe down on power modes, or up on power modes, and fuel or whatever it may be. We’ll take it with a pinch of salt and try to see if we can improve the car tonight.”
Bottas added: “We do visit a threat. It’s only Friday and it’s only practice. I don’t think any team has yet wear all the performance items they’ve.
“I’m sure the lap times should come down tomorrow from the track [improvement] but also most of the teams and all the drivers. It’s way too early to say, but it’s not too bad.”
What about hotly-tipped Red Bull?
Most observers have tipped Red Bull to pose the biggest challenge to Mercedes’ F1 supremacy at the start of the delayed season after having a strong testing programme with the Honda-powered RB16.
And although Max Verstappen and Alex Albon finished eighth and 13th respectively in Friday’s 2nd session, team boss Christian Horner said: “Where we have been in the timesheet does not look like where we are the truth is.”
Both drivers had off-course moments and Verstappen said: “Lap times don’t really say such a thing because I broke my wing in the first [soft-tyre] lap. Of course you can find things we could do better but it had been a good day.”
Perez believes there is little to choose involving the chasing pack.
“The margins are very smalls, the Ferraris, Red Bulls, Renaults, are actually close,” said the Mexican.
“We might find where we really are.”
The Formula 1 season is underway on Sky Sports F1 with the Austrian GP. Sunday’s race starts at 2.10pm. Find out more & subscribe.