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’s too early to take a position about any early-season Mercedes advantage following a dominant begin to the season in Friday practice in Austria.
But while Mercedes’ double one-two on the opening day certainly confirmed their pre-season status of favourites, the practice timesheets also seemed to serve as further evidence that Racing Point have made a larger step forward 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 folks back home in the factory have done a huge job. I’m really excited for the season to start.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but things are looking good. Hopefully tomorrow we’re still up there when everyone puts it together and we see where everyone is.”
Team-mate Lance Stroll was seventh fastest and the Canadian, starting his fourth season of F1, said the RP20 was the best car he had driven around the Red Bull Ring “by a long way”.
Can anybody catch Mercedes?
On the evidence of the first two practice sessions, it would already be a surprise to see anyone but Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas on pole position on Saturday in just 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 maybe not driven the W11 in 18 weeks.
“What’s positive is the car was feeling good today and definitely feels like in general compared to last year we have continued to improve the car,” said Hamilton, who has only won once in six attempts in Austria.
“So that’s a massive positive.”
Asked about where Mercedes saw the primary threat via at this stage, Hamilton said: “It’s difficult to state. It’s positively looking good out there [for Mercedes] but it is possible to never just 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 view a threat. It’s only Friday and it’s only practice. I don’t think any team has yet placed on all the performance items they’ve.
“I’m sure the lap times will come down tomorrow from the track [improvement] but also most of the teams and all the drivers. It’s far too early to state, but it is not too bad.”
What about hotly-tipped Red Bull?
Most observers possess tipped Red Bull in order to pose the greatest challenge in order to Mercedes’ F1 supremacy at the beginning of the late season following a strong screening programme using the Honda-powered RB16.
And although Max Verstappen in addition to Alex Albon finished 9th and 13th respectively inside Friday’s next session, staff boss Christian Horner stated: “Where we are in the timesheet doesn’t look like where we are in reality.”
Both drivers experienced off-course occasions and Verstappen said: “Lap times avoid really point out anything due to the fact I shattered my mentorship in the 1st [soft-tyre] clapboard. Of training course there are items we can improve but it had been a good day time.”
Perez believes there is certainly little to select from the chasing after pack.
“The margins are very smalls, the Ferraris, Red Bulls, Renaults, are really close,” stated the Mexican.
“We will see where we really are.”
The Formula 1 time of year is ongoing on Sky Sports F1 with the Austrian GP. Sunday’s race begins at 2.10pm. Find out more & subscribe.