The sound of racecars filled the hills surrounding the Red Bull Ring in picturesque Spielberg, Austria, on Friday as practice began for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The first of two 90-minute practice sessions on the 4.326-kilometer (2.688-mile), nine-turn circuit was held under partly cloudy skies, with comfortable temperatures just nudging 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit).
In addition to navigating the freshly-paved Red Bull Ring, drivers had to navigate each other. Grip was at a premium, which saw many drivers slipping, sliding and spinning out in FP1. When reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton spun his Mercedes in turn three 30 minutes into the session, Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean, who was a few car lengths behind Hamilton, spun to avoid him. Neither driver sustained any damage to their respective racecars. The incident didn’t hamper Grosjean in the least for two laps later, he set a fast time of 1:10.691 on a set of Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tires.
Following that initial, 12-lap stint, Grosjean switched to a set of Pirelli P Zero Red supersofts, which were slightly scuffed from his installation lap at the beginning of FP1. This 13-lap run resulted in Grosjean bettering his time (1:09.516) to improve to 13th quickest. In his final, eight-lap run of FP1, Grosjean opted for the Pirelli P Zero Purple ultrasoft tire, and it was here where he recorded his best lap of the session – a 1:09.078 on his 33rd lap to put him 11th overall at the checkered flag.
His teammate, Esteban Gutiérrez, endured a more frustrating start to his weekend. A 12-lap run on a set of Yellow softs produced a best time of 1:10.478 before pitting 40 minutes into the session with an electrical issue that caused a loss of power. A tenacious effort by Haas F1 Team crew members identified the issue and fixed it, allowing Gutiérrez to return to the track with seven minutes remaining in FP1. Shod on a slightly used set of Red supersofts, Gutiérrez’s quickest time (1:10.110) came on his 17th lap to place him 19th overall.
The Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Hamilton led the way in FP1. They finished the session 1-2, with Rosberg’s benchmark of 1:07.373 outpacing Hamilton’s best effort by .357 of a second.
Weather impacted FP2, as drivers only made a handful of laps before rain inundated the circuit with just eight minutes of dry running. Nearly 40 minutes later, the rain abated and teams were able to send their drivers back onto the track, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo the first to venture out.
Both Haas F1 Team drivers hit the wet track on Pirelli Cinturato Green intermediate tires. Grosjean made nine laps and Gutiérrez made seven laps. Eventually, the track dried enough for drivers to return to slicks, with Grosjean and Gutiérrez opting for Purple ultrasofts. Grosjean ran with a high fuel load and posted a 1:12.598. However, his best time came at the very beginning of the session prior to the rain – a 1:10.400 earned on Red supersofts. There was no high fuel run at the end for Gutiérrez, and he made the most of his lighter car, posting a quick time of 1:10.138 on his 16th and final lap of FP2, good for 18th quickest. Grosjean’s fast lap placed him 20th overall. Between the two sessions, Haas F1 Team ran a total of 101 laps – 65 by Grosjean and 36 by Gutiérrez.
As in FP1, Rosberg and Hamilton paced the field in FP2. Rosberg’s quick time of 1:07.967 was .019 of a second better than Hamilton.
“FP2 was a tricky session with the weather. The morning was not too bad. I was pretty happy with the car. This afternoon we focused more on the long run on high fuel. The car doesn’t feel too bad. It’s all about understanding the tires and avoiding the graining, and then getting them in the proper working range. We’re getting better and better with that.”
“It was a very tricky day for us. It was not easy to have consistency, especially with the first practice. I managed to do some laps, but then we had a problem, which interrupted the whole session. It was the same in the second practice. We had only done a few laps and it started to rain, then at the end of the session I got held up by another issue. So, overall it was not a great day today, but we will try to do our best to recover for tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting back out there and qualifying.”
Drivers have one more practice session on Saturday (11:00-12:00) before qualifying starts at 14:00. Qualifying consists of three rounds, with the 16 fastest drivers from Q1 moving on to Q2. Then, the 10 fastest drivers from Q2 advance to Q3 where they’ll battle for the pole.