After two weeks of testing Feb. 27-March 10 at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya, it was finally go time Friday at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne as teams prepared for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.
The start of the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship began with two, 90-minute practice sessions – FP1 and FP2 – which saw the new-for-2017 technical regulations in real-time action on the 5.303-kilometer (3.295-mile), 16-turn track.
The advanced aerodynamic package for this year’s car was put in place to create a higher level of downforce and it was achieved with a wider front wing, larger barge boards, a lower and wider rear wing and a diffuser that expands 50 millimeters (two inches) in height and width. Augmenting the aerodynamic advances are wider tires from Pirelli, by 60 millimeters (2.4 inches) in the front and 80 millimeters (3.1 inches) in the rear. It’s a 25-percent increase that brings the front tires to 305 millimeters (12 inches) and the rear tires to 405 millimeters (15.9 inches).
The net effect was immediate, with lap times more than two seconds faster than those achieved in final practice for last year’s Australian Grand Prix.
Haas F1 Team’s Romain Grosjean was the very first driver to venture onto the Albert Park Circuit, with teammate Kevin Magnussen the third driver to hit the track.
Both drivers logged 20 laps in FP1 with each following the same program – installation lap on Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tires, eight consecutive laps on the same set of Yellow softs and then a switch to Red supersoft tires for stints of five and six laps, respectively.
Grosjean was eighth quickest in FP1 with his best time being a 1:26.168, secured on his 14th lap. Magnussen was 17th fastest with a time of 1:27.667 on his 12th tour. Each driver earned their best time on Red supersofts.
Leading the way in FP1 was the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton’s quick time of 1:24.220 was .583 of a second better than Bottas. More pointedly, Hamilton’s fast lap in FP1 was only .691 of a second off the all-time lap record at Albert Park Circuit – a 1:23.529 set by Sebastian Vettel in qualifying in 2011.
Adversity found Haas F1 Team in FP2. The crew chased a water leak on Magnussen’s car, limiting him to just eight laps, with his best being a 1:27.279 secured on his fifth lap while riding on Red supersofts. Grosjean overcame two separate lock-ups – one which put him onto the grass in turn one and another that sent him on a brief drive through the gravel in turn three. Nonetheless, Grosjean was able to tally 29 laps, with his best being a 1:25.436 on his ninth lap while shod on a set of Purple ultrasoft tires.
Hamilton continued his quick pace by finishing atop FP2. He was the only driver to lap the track in under a minute and 24 seconds. His quick time of 1:23.620 was .547 of a second better than his nearest pursuer, Scuderia Ferrari’s Vettel, and only .091 of a second off Vettel’s 2011 lap record.
Between the two sessions, Haas F1 Team ran a total of 77 laps – 49 by Grosjean and 28 by Magnussen.
Grosjean: 8th quick (1:25.436):
“It was a pretty good day on my side of the garage. The car felt much nicer than in winter testing, which is great. It’s good to be here and put the right setup on the car and go out there and have some fun. We more or less did the program we expected to do today, which is surprising for a first day in Australia, though there was a bit of trouble on the other side of the garage. Hopefully we can share our data and get even faster for tomorrow. I’m sure there are plenty of areas where we can improve. Hopefully, tomorrow’s going to be a good day.”
Magnussen: 19th quick (1:27.279):
“It was a frustrating day. I didn’t really get much out of it. We’ll investigate and, hopefully, find the issue. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. We don’t know what the weather’s going to do. It might rain and everything will change anyway. Let’s see what happens. It’s good to see, though, that the car is competitive. That’s very exciting for the season. That’s the positive to take from today.”
Guenther Steiner, Team Principle:
“I think we had two scenarios. One driver, Romain, had a good session. He learned a lot, did a lot of running and seemed to be competitive. With Kevin, we had a few issues. In the morning we couldn’t find the balance on the car, and in the afternoon we were working on it. It seemed to go in the right direction until a water leak. We didn’t do very much running. All in all, I think for the first day out in the new season it’s not too bad. As we expected, there’ll be a very tight battle in the midfield. We still don’t know where we’re at really until tomorrow’s qualifying. We’ll work hard to sort out Kevin’s car for tomorrow’s FP3 session and try to do our best.”
Drivers have one more practice session on Saturday (14:00-15:00) before qualifying starts at 17:00. 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.