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Sparring in Sochi: Ferrari lands first punches as Vettel tops Friday F1 practice

It was a productive day opening day for Ferrari as Sebastian Vettel topped the Formula 1 leaderboard in Free Practice 2 in Russia.

Sparring in Sochi: Ferrari lands first punches as Vettel tops Friday F1 practice

It was a productive day opening day for Ferrari as Sebastian Vettel topped the Formula 1 leaderboard in Free Practice 2 in Russia. The Italian team raised the first question mark of the weekend after Mercedes' historic domination at Sochi.

Vettel's fastest time of 1m34.120s on ultra-softs was 0.263s quicker than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's in second – both times set around 30 minutes into the 90-minute session. Given Ferrari's supposed difficulty finding the narrow optimum temperature window using ultra-softs, those concerns vanished quickly.

The drivers' championship leader is still wary of Mercedes. He said, "I don't want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were."

Valtteri Bottas called it an "interesting day", but he couldn't close the gap to the Ferraris, the Finn having set a time of 1m34.790s, but he beat Lewis Hamilton by three-hundredths of a second.

"It’s a very different situation here with the asphalt and the temperatures compared to what we experienced in Bahrain. The car feels good and the balance is there. A good start but we definitely need to work hard to find some lap time for qualifying," he maintained.

The first 20 minutes had teams running on the slightly harder super-softs with Raikkonen and Hamilton trading jabs for the fastest lap – Hamilton managed a lap of 1m35.752s after Raikkonen went quickest with 1m35.980s.

"Bit of a difficult day for us," said Hamilton.

"We managed to complete everything that we needed to do on our runs, but in terms of the balance of the car, the Ferrari seemed very, very fast on the long runs, so we need to work out how we can improve our pace. The tyres feel very peaky, so it’s easy to drop out of the window of performance. But when they’re working they seem to be good."

Lap-times were noticeably faster than last year's where Hamilton went fastest with 1m37.583 in FP2 and team-mate Rosberg, the retired champion, qualified at 1m35.417s. Gains on the slick Sochi surface are evident due to the 2017 cars' increased downforce.

Whether on ultra-softs or super-softs, the trend showed that Ferrari was quicker in Sectors 1 and 2, which are more dependent on power with longer curves and straights, while the tighter Sector 3 was where Mercedes made its gains. Ferrari was around 4mph faster on average than the Silver Arrows in the Sector 1 speed-trap.

The Red Bulls lay well behind the top-two teams, Max Verstappen having set his fastest time of 1m35.540s equipped on ultra-softs, 0.350s faster than struggling team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. He lost all power 20 minutes before the session ended with 1.4s between him and Vettel.

The midfield battle still hasn't taken a definitive shape though Massa once again went fastest out of his rivals. Less than a tenth of a second faster than Renault's Hulkenberg, Massa's seventh place would be a welcome qualifying spot. The worry for Williams is that Lance Stroll finished 19th, four-tenths off Sauber's Pascal Wehrlein.

Hulkenberg was quick on a short-run but Renault still struggled with balance issues on long-runs even after a new front-wing was fitted to their cars. Haas was another team to have fitted a new part, changing brake suppliers from Brembo to Carbone Industrie.

That came at the cost of reliability: Romain Grosjean suffered severe rear lock late into the session and with 20 minutes to go, he complained of a complete lack of brakes. The Frenchman had to settle for 14th.

Toro Rosso were anonymous throughout the session. Kvyat, in an effort to change his fortunes from last year's race where he crashed out in Turn 1, spun out early on as the rear snapped on him in Turn 13 and he finished way down in 17th. Carlos Sainz Jr managed an impressive 27 laps in FP2 on ultra-softs, but his pace was lacking.

Toro Rosso will look at Force India, right in the middle of the field, who managed faster, more consistent long-runs. A closer look at Force India's engine might well be possible now as Esteban Ocon's engine cover flew off in FP1. The Mercedes power unit was exposed to many curious photographers as a red flag was triggered.

Honda continues to be haunted by hurdles

Even as Honda provided McLaren with updated hybrid power units for Russia after the team was blighted with engine issues in Bahrain, and pre-race testing was promising, Stoffel Vandoorne still had an issue in FP1.

The MGU-K on his car, which recovers kinetic energy through braking, failed and Vandoorne reported “no power” as he limped his MCL32 back to the pits with just a few minutes of the session remaining.

With a lack of time to replace the specific part, Vandoorne will face a 15-place grid penalty as Honda will change the entire engine, taking the driver over the four-engine limit, having now used five MGU-H units.

When Jenson Button takes over from Fernando Alonso, his engine allocation will not be reset. Alonso has used three of his four power units at this stage.

Russian Grand Prix, Sochi: Free Practice 2 Times

POS

DRIVER

CAR

TIME

GAP

LAPS

1

Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari

1m34.120s

36

2

Kimi Raikkonen

Ferrari

1m34.383s

0.263s

36

3

Valtteri Bottas

Mercedes

1m34.790s

0.670s

36

4

Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes

1m34.829s

0.709s

34

5

Max Verstappen

Red Bull

1m35.540s

1.420s

15

6

Daniel Ricciardo

Red Bull

1m35.910s

1.790s

26

7

Felipe Massa

Williams

1m36.261s

2.141s

39

8

Nico Hulkenberg

Renault

1m36.329s

2.209s

38

9

Kevin Magnussen

Haas

1m36.506s

2.386s

31

10

Sergio Perez

Force India

1m36.600s

2.480s

38

11

Esteban Ocon

Force India

1m36.654s

2.534s

39

12

Fernando Alonso

McLaren

1m36.765s

2.645s

27

13

Jolyon Palmer

Renault

1m36.771s

2.651s

22

14

Romain Grosjean

Haas

1m37.039s

2.919s

31

15

Carlos Sainz

Toro Rosso

1m37.083s

2.963s

36

16

Stoffel Vandoorne

McLaren

1m37.125s

3.005s

25

17

Daniil Kvyat

Toro Rosso

1m37.300s

3.180s

35

18

Pascal Wehrlein

Sauber

1m37.441s

3.321s

30

19

Lance Stroll

Williams

1m37.747s

3.627s

36

20

Marcus Ericsson

Sauber

1m37.819s

3.699s

29

 
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