Friday Practice: Mercedes edge Ferrari – McLaren have Returned

Lewis Hamilton topped the timings in FP2 with a 1.22.801s and was closely followed by Nico Rosberg, two-tenths back. The Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s lined up two-by-two, the former have found a sweet spot with their amended power-unit.

One of the themes of both session was drifting. Some struggled more than others on the quick Parabolica turn at the end of the lap as high-tyre pressures lessened mechanical grip. Red Bull, and particularly Max Verstappen looked incredibly smooth through the corner, he barely had to correct the car where others, including the Ferrari’s ahead, struggled. It won’t be surprising to see somebody off there in the sessions that count.

Another bizarre thing emerged as the session progressed and teams started their race sims. The Supersoft, Soft and Medium compounds were giving off fairly similar lap-times for Mercedes. The usually huge gap between the Supersofts and the Mediums was only a few tenths. If track temperatures hold, those with an extra set of Mediums over the weekend might opt for the one-stop on Sunday. Rosberg has an extra-set, so he might look to strategically beat Hamilton if he can’t on raw pace.

The nature of Monza see’s teams running skinny rear-wings that are designed exclusively for this race. Mercedes and Red Bull looked to be the most balanced, but Ferrari will be up there too for Qualifying and the Race.

FP2 has set-up a battle between McLaren and Williams too, Alonso finished 7th and Bottas 8th. The Williams team have scored a podium at Monza in the past two seasons and will be reasonably optimistic with today.

McLaren continue to be show true pace and it’s great that we’re going to get another weekend of Alonso and Button being involved in points battles. Nobody is sure whether the team were running the new power unit in these sessions. If they are, they’ll be running in a weaker setting for preservation. This only amplifies Alonso’s 7th place time. This track is the ultimate one for power, so Honda can sigh in relief as everybody finally gets off of their back!

Grosjean was eighth, running the Monza special wavy rear-wing for Haas. He was complaining a lot about his cars balance (Signature Grosjean), but 9th is a good showing for the American outfit, who need to strike whilst Toro Rosso endure what is shaping up to be another bad weekend. Button should be happy with 10th as long as he keeps finishing further foward as the weekend progresses and Massa was in hot pursuit in 11th.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 02: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 2, 2016 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 02: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 2, 2016 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Elsewhere, Force India finished the session 12th and 13th. There is no way that this is where they really are in terms of pace. They were more than likely doing heavy fuel runs in these sessions. We’d expect them to be within touching distance of the top six for FP3 tomorrow morning.

Reanult look like they’ll be finishing at the back of the grid. Their car doesn’t have an issue with power, but seems to be generating too much downforce for this circuit. Ericcson had a decent session with 15th on his 26th birthday.

The big things to take away from this session are that Ferrari look like they could beat Red Bull this weekend if they keep it smooth and avoid contact. McLaren seem to be back for good and this will be evident on Sunday. The uniformity in which each tyre compound was working on the Mercedes is a bizarre phenomena that will surely cause other teams to ask some questions at Pirelli. If that trend continues, it puts Rosberg at an advantage from a strategic perspective, but Hamilton was fastest in FP2.