“It’s beautiful weather but it’s killer in the car, and it’s obviously very tough on tyres as well.”; Can Red Bull be Mercedes-beaters again?
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 14/08/20 6:49pm
Lewis Hamilton says he is expecting a “very close” battle with Red Bull in “very tough” Spanish GP conditions despite Mercedes’ big Friday advantage.
Mercedes topped both of the opening practice sessions in Barcelona, with Hamilton fastest in P2 – 0.8s ahead of Max Verstappen in third.
But as last weekend at Silverstone proved, Merc’s one-lap pace doesn’t mean much if the temperatures soar on race day. At the 70th Anniversary GP, Verstappen was one second off pole in qualifying but then dominated on Sunday as both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas struggled with tyre wear.
Although the tyres being a step harder this weekend should help Mercedes, conditions are similar to Silverstone and Hamilton admitted after Friday: “It’s definitely quite tough out there.
“I don’t think I’ve been to Spain when it’s this hot. It’s beautiful weather but it’s killer in the car, and it’s obviously very tough on tyres as well.”
Verstappen appeared to be a much closer match for the Silver Arrows during the longer runs at the end of the second session.
“It’s been a good day, the second session was better for me,” said Hamilton, who was almost three tenths faster than Bottas. “The long runs, we looked very close with the Red Bulls so I think it’s going to be a very close race.”
Strategy, as well as whether Mercedes’ tyres can withstand the strain, will also be key.
“I didn’t see blistering, but we didn’t see blistering last Friday either. It felt OK. The long run didn’t look too bad but I don’t know how much further we can go compared to how much further Red Bull can go.
“That will determine whether it’s a one or two-stop.”
A more optimistic Bottas added: “At least today, no blistering. These tyres are wearing rather than just blistering. So I think for us it’s only a good thing.”
Red Bull on race hopes; Reaction from the Friday surprises
Verstappen, despite being quickest through the first sector, has already all-but ruled himself out of pole contention but is much more feisty about his race chances.
“On the one lap, we are clearly lacking pace to Mercedes,” he said. “But over longer runs it was quite nice to drive. I felt good today.”
Christian Horner echoed his driver’s comments: “Mercedes’ one-lap pace advantage, it looks very, very competitive.
“I think we take encouragement from Max’s longer runs, particularly on the medium tyre, he looked really competitive. It looks like another warm weekend.”
Behind Verstappen in P2, the pecking order was much more surprising.
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth and feels Renault are in a “very good place”, while Romain Grosjean – after finishing sixth in the opening session – was up in fifth in the afternoon for Haas.
“In all fairness, I don’t know [why we’re so fast] and no one really knows,” said the Frenchman. “It’s the same car we’ve had all year. What a day.”