Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe

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

It was a messy start to the Australian Grand Prix weekend with numerous drivers getting caught out during Formula 1 Friday practice. This has masked the overall picture somewhat but it still seems encouraging for FP2 pacesetter Ferrari

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

A brief excursion at Turn 1 mattered little to Charles Leclerc. He was already on top of the Formula 1 pile in FP2, prior to his brief off towards the end of the session, having beaten Max Verstappen by almost four-tenths of a second.

F1's trip Down Under left many batting away the effects of jet lag, with a few slips prevalent throughout the Friday sessions as the drivers reacquainted themselves with the challenging Albert Park circuit in the city of Melbourne.

After a tentative start, most had got their mistakes out of their system by FP2, although there were nonetheless a few errors along the way in the second hour of Friday running. Logan Sargeant thrust the hearts into the mouths of the Williams pitwall with his Turn 11 spin, where he'd not quite nailed the entry of the corner and caught the gravel on the exit, but he helpfully kept his FW46 out of the wall. Leclerc's own skip across the Turn 1 grass echoed that of George Russell's earlier turf-bothering efforts, itself a carbon copy of Lewis Hamilton's slip in FP1.

After a season opener in Bahrain that features a huge safety net with its vast swathes of run-off, and the challenge of claustrophobic walls lining the high-speed Jeddah circuit, F1 returned to its traditional roots of grass and gravel to test the drivers' skills. It certainly kept quite a few on their toes...

The story of the day

Leclerc was relentlessly self-improving in his practice efforts during FP2, hardly willing to concede the uppermost position on the timing boards across the Friday afternoon session. He'd first claimed it during the medium-tyre runs, where he'd become the first runner of the weekend to traverse into the 1m17s - his 1m17.936s effort posing a benchmark to those switching to the soft tyres.

The Aston Martin pair picked up the gauntlet that had been cast to the floor by the Monegasque, although their opening efforts were hardly error-free - Lance Stroll having carelessly spilt a potential headliner with a Turn 13 excursion on the grass. But the two were less profligate with their green machines on the next attempt: Alonso went fastest, but Stroll went faster still.

Aston Martin drivers put in some encouraging times

Aston Martin drivers put in some encouraging times

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Leclerc responded with a 1m17.423s on his first attempt on softs but hadn't been able to beat his fastest middle sector on that particular tour. He fixed that on his next run, posting a 1m17.277s, which withstood any further efforts from the rest of the order.

Verstappen got closest, although was running out of sync with the other drivers having made a late start to FP2. Red Bull had to enact a few repairs as a heavy kerb strike in FP1 had shaken a few bits of his RB20 floor and chassis loose, causing a delay to his running. He was still circulating on softs as the other 18 cars (sans Alex Albon) were embarking upon long-run data gathering, initially matching the returning Carlos Sainz's 1m17.707s with his first effort. The championship leader took that down to a 1m17.658s to get closer but still remained some way short of Leclerc's best from the session.

Sainz was also four-tenths shy of his team-mate, but it was nonetheless impressive to return just a fortnight after surgery to remove his appendix.

This kept him ahead of the Aston Martins, which had appeared to be a match for the frontrunners in the opening sector. The British squad had laid its towel down ahead of close rivals Mercedes and McLaren, which endured mixed fortunes throughout the practice sessions. Lando Norris had headlined FP1, but could only manage the ninth-fastest time in the second hour; Mercedes' Russell was sixth in the FP2 order ahead of Piastri, as the McLarens were split by Sergio Perez.

A flurry of errors in FP1, particularly around the sweepers between Turn 8 and Turn 11, ultimately built into a crash crescendo (crashcendo?) thanks to Albon's trip to the barriers. This precluded the Williams driver from participating in FP2, as his team meticulously assessed his chassis for damage; it emerged that the team does not have a spare tub available. Suggestions are that Williams, if Albon's car is too war-wounded to continue, might stand Sargeant down for the weekend to ensure its lead driver has a chance to atone for his earlier error. The gearbox and engine in Albon's car sustained damage so, either way, the Anglo-Thai driver will lose power unit components from his personal allowance.

Albon has given Williams a headache after FP1 crash

Albon has given Williams a headache after FP1 crash

Photo by: Williams

Will strange FP2 long runs translate into open Melbourne contest?

Qualifying on Saturday at Albert Park is likely to be influenced by driver errors, going on the evidence provided over Friday, although the size of that influence largely depends on how circumspect the field wishes to be. Losing a lap by going deep into Turn 1 or Turn 10 is generally common in Australian Grand Prix grid-setting, after all.

The race will be quite another thing and, if the long runs from FP2 are anything to go by, then Melbourne could offer further surprises in a season that has, so far, had few of them. The table of the fastest average runs per team is below, minus the stunted five-lap stint that Verstappen did (which, for reference, was not a great deal faster than Perez's run recorded). All runs were completed on medium tyres.

FP2 long run averages

Pos Team (Driver) Time Laps
1 Ferrari (LEC) 1m22.926s 9
2 McLaren (NOR) 1m23.140s 9
3 Aston Martin (STR) 1m23.358s 11
4 Mercedes (RUS) 1m23.760s 7
5 Red Bull (PER) 1m23.808s 12
6 Alpine (GAS) 1m24.047s 10
7 RB (TSU) 1m24.067s 10
8 Sauber (BOT) 1m24.207s 14
9 Haas (HUL) 1m24.454s 12

Ferrari leading the race pace table is not particularly surprising at this stage, as the car looked strong with Leclerc at the helm in his medium-tyre running. That said, this run omits two slower tours, one being his Turn 1 excursion that cost a few seconds of time. The order behind is altogether more intriguing, as the average runs put McLaren just behind through Norris' string of laps on the yellow-walled tyres. Unlike Leclerc's stint, outliers did not need to be deleted to underline an encouraging turn of pace in race trim, even if the team did not entirely unlock the full gamut of one-lap performance through FP2's opening phase.

Stroll's efforts on the medium were also comparable, a second faster than Alonso's 15-lap stint. There may well be a differential in fuel load across the two Aston Martin drivers, and Alonso's average effort (1m24.243s) was more in line with the lower half of the field in their medium tyre runs. But, assuming Stroll was running to a similar programme as Leclerc and Norris, the British squad might well feel pleased with its qualifying and race pace thus far.

Mercedes only had Russell's seven-lap stretch on the mediums for a comparison with the rest, as Hamilton aborted his long-run efforts. Experimentation in set-up had "massively backfired" according to team principal Toto Wolff, which left Hamilton 18th in the timings and suggesting that "something's wrong" over the radio as he was about to pick up his long-run duties.

Hamilton had another dismal day for Mercedes and missed out on long running

Hamilton had another dismal day for Mercedes and missed out on long running

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

The team will make changes overnight to Hamilton's car to bring it more in line with Russell's, although the Briton requires minor repairs to his machine owing to a smidgen of damage. Wind sensitivity was also something of a bugbear for Russell during the session, and the W15 looked somewhat capricious during Autosport's on-track viewing of FP1 - particularly in the opening pair of corners.

Most surprising is Red Bull's position in the long-run pecking order. As Verstappen's run was not included, this only left Perez's average available for comparison. Although the Mexican initially compared well with Leclerc, his following laps did not follow the same trend and ultimately yielded a higher-than-expected average lap time. But it's far too early to panic, and Verstappen suggested that most of the gap can be addressed through small adjustments overnight to bring the RB20 into play.

Add into that the usual uncertainty over engine conversation modes and Verstappen's truncated race runs, and it's hard to genuinely predict that Red Bull will falter this weekend. It's not like 2023's Singapore race, where both drivers immediately found that the RB19 was not going to play well with the Marina Bay circuit, and the Dutch driver retained optimism that normal service would resume in the morning.

But Perez's runs in both qualifying and race simulations suggest that a repeat of Red Bull's 1-2 finishes in Bahrain and Jeddah are not a foregone conclusion. Leclerc will be vying to disrupt the Milton Keynes squad's hegemony over the season so far, while the other three frontrunning teams may also have designs on a first podium finish of the year. Moving to the softest compounds - the C3, C4, and C5 - should also hint at some degree of strategic variation, especially if the race is pulled away from being a simple one-stopper.

Of those hoping to disrupt this year's top five teams, Alpine surprisingly came out strongest in the overall race runs - albeit just 0.02s faster than RB. Outright qualifying pace remained poor, with Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon managing just 15th and 17th overall, but Ocon proved that the troubled A524 can at least hack it a little better in the races. RB was close through Yuki Tsunoda's longer run, with Sauber still in touching distance. Williams, having decided not to produce a medium-tyre long run, is an unknown quantity at this stage of the weekend.

The fine margins mean that the teams have to get every detail right in the lead-up to the race on Sunday. And, if there's just one mistake and a safety car comes out to play, it could reshuffle the order quite significantly. You remember last year's race, right?

What they said

Charles Leclerc: "It feels good for now. We've had a positive day from the first laps in FP1 to the end of FP2, so that's a good start however we need to keep working very hard because I'm sure that we'll see some surprises tomorrow and there's no reason for us to be a bit in front compared to everyone else tomorrow as well, so there is still margin to improve in some things, our race run was pretty good, which is encouraging, but let's see."

Max Verstappen: "Unfortunately, it was a little bit messy because of what happened in FP1. I went wide, damaged the floor and also the chassis so took a little bit longer to fix that unfortunately, so I lost like 20 minutes. But I do think the turnaround was very quick what we did as a team so I more or less completed the programme still. Long run I would have liked maybe a few more laps but we were missing 20 minutes. I think Ferrari is quick but, from our side, I think there are also a few more things that we can fine-tune, so nothing crazy, nothing worrying."

Carlos Sainz: "I feel OK, obviously I feel tired after practice. Not being 100% physically, but I felt like I had a good day. And if you would have told me a week ago that I can do the whole practice without issues then I would have been very happy. Charles looked very quick, today. On my side obviously, I took it step by step and getting up into a rhythm not at the limit of the car and not at the limit of myself yet, but I think with more laps and getting a bit more confident with how everything feels inside, I think I will be faster tomorrow."

Sainz was pleased to be back behind the wheel after recent appendix surgery

Sainz was pleased to be back behind the wheel after recent appendix surgery

Photo by: Mark Horsburgh / Motorsport Images

Watch: Explained: Mercedes Grabs Resta from Ferrari in F1 Staff Swoop

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Mercedes' F1 set-up changes "massively backfired" - Wolff
Next article Albon takes over Sargeant's F1 chassis for remainder of Australian GP

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe