Mercedes speak of the best Friday of the season so far, but believe Ferrari in particular will be fast and can still improve
Unusually positive tones come from Mercedes on Friday. After the practice session, both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell spoke of the best session of the entire 2023 Formula 1 year, although they were “only” fifth (+0.465 seconds) and third (+0.235) in Singapore.
But Hamilton says: “It was a really good day. Everything went smoothly and we got in really well straight away. The car made progress from the first to the second practice, which isn’t too often.”
Because that has often been a tenor of the seven-time world champion in the recent past: often the car had been good in the first practice, but had deteriorated significantly in the second practice after changes. But not in Singapore. “The second practice was definitely the best FT2 session I have had this year,” he praised.
“It was nice to finish a Friday on such a positive note. I think we have a good base to build on for the rest of the weekend. I’ve never felt this good on a Friday this year, so hopefully we can do a good job overnight, as we always do, and keep improving,” Hamilton said.
Teammate Russell is also talking about “probably the best Friday so far this year”, saying. “The car feels really good on the track.” The Briton is particularly pleased with the newly asphalted area in the first sector.
However, Mercedes still needs to work a bit on “how we approach a fast lap on the soft tyre”, as lead race engineer Andrew Shovlin notes. “It doesn’t feel like we’re getting the most out of the compound. “
Ferrari the favourite for Mercedes on Saturday
Ferrari, in particular, did that better, singling out both Mercedes drivers as favourites. “I don’t think they’ve got their power unit fully cranked up, so from that they should still have a few tenths up their sleeve,” Russell reckons. “So the battle is probably for the second row.”
But he also says: “You never know what’s going to happen. The tyres are the key: if you can get the C5 in the sweet spot, you can find a few tenths quite easily. “
Shovlin, meanwhile, has plenty of rivals on his mind when it comes to the battle for the top spots. “Ferrari looked fast, so did McLaren and Aston Martin, and Red Bull, unusually, didn’t look like they were the ones to beat,” he says.
But: “We expect them to change that by tomorrow, which means a lot of drivers will be fighting for the top grid positions. It’s clearly going to be very tight, so we’ll be trying to find every little bit of pace overnight. We’re looking forward to an exciting qualifying session tomorrow,” said Shovlin.
Strong long run
But the most important thing will be again on Sunday, when points are at stake. To that end, the engineer says Mercedes have put in a strong long run: “It’s always difficult here to keep the rear tyre temperatures under control, but we seem to be more or less on the pace,” he points out.
Russell noticed a lot of tyre degradation in the process, but isn’t worried about it because that’s always the case on Friday, he said. “I’m pretty sure it will be a bit better on Sunday,” the Mercedes driver says.
“At the moment it looks like it’s pretty tight between one and two stops. I hope it stays that way because that would make it a bit more exciting,” said Russell.
The only thing that annoys him is that the attempt to install a fourth DRS zone on the straight was stalled. “We need DRS in the last section and all the drivers have approached the FIA about it. The FIA asked all the teams but there were some who were against it,” he says.
“I think the teams should be for more racing, not against it. But it’s interesting that a few teams are against it,” Hamilton thinks. “But we will discuss it again in the drivers’ briefing. “
No fourth DRS zone: Hamilton puzzled
One topic of conversation on Friday, however, was the new section in the final sector. Four corners have disappeared and instead there is now a long straight there. “The changes are great,” Hamilton says. “It makes the circuit even better than it was before. “