Sebastian Vettel is unconcerned by being over half a second off Lewis Hamilton during Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix, saying he has “quite a lot of performance in hand”.
Hamilton was quickest in each of the two practice sessions on Friday, with a comfortable advantage in FP1 being cut to less than 0.2s over Max Verstappen in the second session. While Kimi Raikkonen was fourth-quickest – within 0.3s of Hamilton – Vettel struggled a little more compared to his teammate and said he has more to come on Saturday.
“We actually tried to chase the balance a bit because I didn’t feel very comfortable yet, so I think we still have quite a lot of performance in hand,” Vettel said. “I’m not too worried because I know that if I get everything right then we should be in better shape, but it looks to be close which is good news. So we should be able to do something tomorrow.”
Asked if that means he could be in the mix for pole position, Vettel replied: “I don’t know.
“I think it’s too difficult at the beginning of the season to know. Normally after a couple of races you know how much everybody is improving, you know where you have to be on Friday to have a say for pole, but this year everything is new so we have to wait.”
And Vettel says it is not surprising to see such a small gap between the top three tams at the end of Friday’s running, although warns all teams will make a degree of progress on Saturday if it stays dry.
“Obviously it’s difficult to say how much everybody will improve,” he said. “I think certainly we have a little bit in hand, I wasn’t happy with the lap that I had and with the rhythm and the balance yet so there’s more to come but I think that’s probably the same for everyone else. But I do hope that I can make a bigger step than the others.
“If it’s close then it’s good, it means that you can do something, so hopefully it stays that close. We’ll find out tomorrow.”
With Haas impressing on Friday as Romain Grosjean was sixth-quickest overall, Vettel says teams can make clear steps forward based on overnight set-up changes which could have a big impact where teams are closely matched.
“Haas has left with a strong impression from Barcelona, and at least today for one lap, they seemed reasonable, I didn’t see much else. I think we’ll have to wait to really confirm. Melbourne is a tricky track and if you don’t feel 100% there’s quite a bit of time in that which all of a sudden comes if you feel confident.
“Therefore I wouldn’t rule out further back McLaren as well – they haven’t done much in testing so it’s difficult to judge where they will be. As I said before, if it’s close then it’s good for everyone because it means that you’re always sort of in range and you can do something.”