Lewis Hamilton posted the quickest times in both Practice sessions today in his Mercedes, despite crashing his W06 in a rain-interrupted Practice Two.
Hamilton was separated by four tenths to his teammate Nico Rosberg and a further one and a half seconds to Lotus’ Romain Grosjean in Practice One. The session started off with most of the drivers taking to the track on the Soft tyre. Early electrical problems for Jenson Button meant he was stuck in second gear on his outlap, of course similar issues hit his teammate Fernando Alonso in Monaco two weeks ago.
McLaren were able to fix the problems however this time round, and Button was able to continue the teams programme which included the running of their updated Power Unit. Onlookers say it sounded more deeper and guttural, with the team rumoured to have updated the turbo charger. Both Alonso and Button ended up ninth and fifteenth respectively in the morning session.
Speaking of engine updates Mercedes also managed to make improvements for this race without using up any of their allocated tokens, instead doing it through the reliability loophole in an update that is meant to help them with engine knock problems – which has put them down in terms of performance from Ferrari in some races.
Red Bull meanwhile came to this race without any engine updates from supplier Renault Sport, despite the talk of Riccardo potentially taking a penalty for using his fifth ICE unit out of his allocated four. He was sidelined in the first thirty minutes of the session after the team elected to change his brake ducts, before getting out to set a lap time good enough for fourteenth fastest. He later went fastest in the second practice session on the Super Soft tyre.
In the middle part of the session we saw a lot of drivers spinning after locking up their inside tyre, namely Lewis Hamilton who spun at turn ten after seeing Carlos Sainz spin his Toro Rosso at turn one. Valterri Bottas also spun down at turn six after adjusting his rear diff settings, suggesting that may have been what tipped his Williams round. But no major dramas.
In Practice Two that changed slightly when the dark clouds loomed over the circuit. The threat of rain was clearly present within the next half hour of the opening parts of the session, which meant many drivers went out on a rushed programme. Sebastien Vettel notably went straight out on the Super Soft tyre, setting the fastest lap and gathering data on a tyre they feel they can longer than anticipated on in the race.
Of course they were caught out in Monaco during the rain in FP2 two weeks ago, so getting the runs in was key for them. Once Mercedes switched to the Super Soft Hamilton went fastest by only three tenths of a second, however the speed traps suggested that Ferrari’s runs were done on low fuel. The two-time world champion was then seen leaping over the sausage kerbs down at the turn 12 chicane, which of course has been changed this year to allow for a safer rejoin onto the circuit.
Elsewhere Kvyat stopped 30 minutes into the session with brake problems, however it wasn’t too much of an issue for him as the rain started to come down, and with it likely to intensify as the session went on it more or less put an end to running with 55 minutes left on the clock. At least it did for everyone apart from Mercedes, who sent their drivers out on Intermediate tyres on a sodden track to gather some clutch bite point data.
The conditions were clearly enough to switch over to the full Wet tyre, as we saw when Hamilton arrived at turn ten where he spun previously, his Mercedes skated off the track and straight into the barrier. That brought out the Red Flag as the Safety Car took to the circuit, before we went back to Green Flag running with 20 or so minutes left.
But with the track sodden we didn’t get any of the other drivers out, which meant that the session was effectively over.