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Analysis
Formula 1 British GP

What we learned from Friday practice at the 2024 F1 British GP

McLaren swept the opening practice sessions for this weekend’s British Grand Prix, with Red Bull and Max Verstappen off the ultimate pace. But the deeper data shows things differently...

The opening day of track action at Formula 1’s 2024 British Grand Prix ended with a clean sweep of Friday practice sessions for McLaren, with Red Bull not troubling the top times.

Well, Sergio Perez was third fastest in FP2 to put the world champion squad second overall behind McLaren in that session, but his illustrious team-mate, Max Verstappen, was down in an unusual spot in seventh. Just like Perez in Austria five days ago, Verstappen even ended up beaten by Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg.

But, as ever in F1, and we do hope the championship’s Apple-produced film is going to somehow reflect this, the true reality of who is in contention is different to what the times alone suggest.

Because there were two key reasons why Verstappen was off the pace in FP2, plus the long-run times show things differently - and encouragingly for Red Bull. But, tantalisingly for F1 fans, McLaren is strong in these too.

Right now, it seems another box office Verstappen vs Norris contest is on the cards at Silverstone.

The story of the day

FP1 began with spots of rain falling on various parts of this giant ex-airfield venue - the day having begun with Silverstone getting a dousing of classic British weather - so the track took a while to rubber in. Norris led the way with a 1m27.420s, trailed by Lance Stroll’s 1m27.554s for Aston Martin.

Verstappen might not have starred on the Friday timesheets, but Red Bull's pace cannot be denied

Verstappen might not have starred on the Friday timesheets, but Red Bull's pace cannot be denied

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The first session was only really notable for three other things: Yuki Tsunoda’s early spin and exit in the Luffield gravel that capped his lap total at five and left him at the foot of the times, Oscar Piastri coasting into the pits late on with what McLaren says was a fuel cell problem, and the four rookie appearances.

These were Ollie Bearman at Haas in place of Kevin Magnussen (with the 2025 Haas racer putting in the best rookie time at 1m28.536s, good enough for 14th), Jack Doohan driving Pierre Gasly’s Alpine, Franco Colapinto replacing Logan Sargeant at Williams and Isack Hadjar taking Perez’s RB20.

FP2 overall times  

POS Driver Team Time Gap
1 Norris      McLaren 1m26.549s  
2 Perez   Red Bull  1m26.549s   +0.434s
3 Hulkenberg Haas 1m26.990s +0.441s
4 Leclerc Ferrari 1m27.150s +0.601s
5 Hamilton Mercedes 1m27.202s +0.653s
6 Stroll Aston Martin    1m27.274s +0.725s
7 Bottas Sauber 1m27.381s +0.832s
8 Albon Williams 1m27.645s +1.096s
9 Gasly Alpine 1m27.732s +1.183s
10 Tsunoda  RB 1m27.745s +1.196s

In FP2, Verstappen showed well on the medium tyres in the opening stages, with his 1m27.831s leading the way for the first quarter.

Verstappen tried a second qualifying simulation effort in Piastri’s wake on another new set of softs, but running wide while catching an oversteer snap exiting Becketts and cutting Chapel as a result meant he abandoned that lap

But here things deviated from the norm, as Red Bull switched the Dutchman to softs for a qualifying simulation. The reason? Rain threatening the end of the session forcing things to shuffle forwards, with Red Bull insiders admitting later that it had predicted the rain arriving earlier than it did.

But the rest stuck to their usual run plans and chipped away on the mediums, before switching to the softs at the halfway stage. Here, Charles Leclerc sent his Ferrari to the top of the times before Hulkenberg’s surprise leap into table-topping contention came a few seconds later.

Hulkenberg, as he often has this year, caught the eye with his one-lap pace for Haas

Hulkenberg, as he often has this year, caught the eye with his one-lap pace for Haas

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Then, the McLaren drivers took over, with Piastri moving to first before he was knocked back by Norris’s 1m26.549s. Perez then ran later still, to slot into third 0.434s down.

Verstappen, meanwhile, had tried a second qualifying simulation effort in Piastri’s wake on another new set of softs, but running wide while catching an oversteer snap exiting Becketts and cutting Chapel, as a result, meant he abandoned that lap on the Hanger straight.

The teams then switched to long-runs, before the rain finally arrived in the closing minutes to cap the action slightly short for the fans watching on.

What the data tells us

What’s interesting about Verstappen’s place in the overall FP2 order (table above) is that after he ran, the wind and temperature both went up – meaning his rivals had slightly more challenging conditions.

But they also benefitted considerably from the additional rubber going down and so as he abandoned his second attempt on the softs, we’ll never know how his pace running at the same time amid the track evolution factor would have compared.

However, Red Bull is definitely struggling to get the RB20’s balance right through Silverstone’s corner range.

It shines in the high-speed sections and down the Wellington and Hanger straights – with Perez taking back 0.15s on the latter on his quickest FP2 lap versus Norris on the GPS trace data – but is haemorrhaging time in the low-speed stuff.

Perez's GPS data reveals once again where Red Bull holds the advantage over McLaren

Perez's GPS data reveals once again where Red Bull holds the advantage over McLaren

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

This comes mainly in the first and third sectors at Silverstone, with the GPS data also showing that Red Bull was also deploying its usual tactic of turning down its engine more compared to its rivals.

Perez is clocked a substantial chunk down on speed across every straight compared to Norris on their best laps, but does get above the home hero overall on the Wellington and Hanger straights as he stays on the throttle for slightly longer.

Medium long-run averages

POS Team Time Laps
1 Red Bull 1m32.191s 12 laps
2 McLaren 1m32.290s 12 laps
3 Ferrari 1m32.559s 10 laps
4 Aston Martin 1m33.113s 12 laps
5 Alpine 1m33.162s 4 laps
6 Williams 1m33.200s 12 laps
7 RB 1m33.476s 7 laps
8 Sauber 1m33.845s 7 laps 
*N/A Mercedes, Haas    

In the long runs, Red Bull looks much better, as it leads the way on average pace on the yellow-walled mediums (above table). But, only by 0.099s over McLaren, with Verstappen and Norris’s stints coming in over the same distance, suggesting a similar fuel load for both when considering that typical caveat.

Leclerc was running the sidepod, floor, diffuser and rear wing updates brought to the SF-24 in Spain, with Carlos Sainz back in Montreal-spec, as Ferrari searches for an answer on its high-speed corner bouncing

Then comes Ferrari, which also looked half decent over a flying lap – albeit down compared to the leading two teams.

The problem was, again, high-speed instability, with Leclerc regularly catching snaps at the track’s quickest turns – including an impressive sideways save at Chapel on what was his best lap.

He was running the sidepod, floor, diffuser and rear wing updates brought to the SF-24 in Spain, with Carlos Sainz back in Montreal-spec, as Ferrari searches for an answer on its high-speed corner bouncing at a venue that really tests aerodynamic performance in such corners.

Mercedes ran long on the soft tyres to assess its strategy options for Sunday

Mercedes ran long on the soft tyres to assess its strategy options for Sunday

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Soft long-run averages

POS Team Time Laps
1 Mercedes 1m32.232s 9 laps
2 McLaren 1m32.422s 7 laps
3 Ferrari 1m32.756s 5 laps
4 Alpine 1m33.241s 6 laps
5 Haas 1m33.282s 8 laps
6 Aston Martin 1m33.349s 7 laps
7 RB 1m33.840s 8 laps
*N/A Red Bull, Williams, Sauber    

Mercedes didn’t run the mediums over its long runs at FP2’s close. It stuck to the softs and led the way on the relevant averages (above table). McLaren again looks strong on this compound.

Mercedes overall ended the day feeling the wind getting stronger as FP2 progressed hampered its qualifying simulation and long-run efforts, as the resulting balance shift took the W15 away from its tyre sweet spot. Lewis Hamilton also said over his team radio as the rain came down that “the track is fine, I’m just slow”.

The squad’s examination of the soft tyre is interesting as it was in this race in 2023 where George Russell pulled off an impressive long opening stint on the red-walled rubber (which again is Pirelli’s C3 in 2024).

The teams are likely to again favour starting the race on the medium, as it provides strategic flexibility in the event of an early or late virtual/real safety car.

If needing to pit early, drivers can switch to the hards to take them long into the race, while the medium is also durable and so can go deep before a late switch to softs. Pirelli reckons the hard is performing better over a stint compared to 2023, while graining was spotted on the softs used for long runs in FP2.

The weather is a critical factor in maintaining the softs over a stint, with the cool temperatures today and set to follow for the rest of the weekend mean that while the fast corners put a huge amount of energy through the rubber, they aren’t going to massively degrade as they have in other years.

It wouldn't be Silverstone without the threat of rain

It wouldn't be Silverstone without the threat of rain

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

It’s worth noting that Norris’s best time in FP2 was 0.171s up on Verstappen’s Silverstone pole lap a year ago, with the cool temperatures allying with the car development progress from the teams to produce quicker times. These will really be seen when fuel loads are removed and engine modes are turned up to the maximum in qualifying.

The weather and temperature could well impact both this and the race, which means some teams may be tempted to run a slightly higher downforce package.

Such an approach would boost Red Bull where it is struggling right now, but, perhaps, leave it vulnerable to attack once again, this time on a track where overtaking isn’t too tricky…

Read Also:
Now it is time to crunch the data and run the simulations late into the night to nail the set-up for the weekend

Now it is time to crunch the data and run the simulations late into the night to nail the set-up for the weekend

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

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