Both Red Bull and Mercedes believe the other has plenty more performance to show following Friday practice for the French Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas led a Mercedes one-two in FP1 ahead of the Red Bull pair, but it was Max Verstappen who was quickest in the second session. The Dutch driver was encouraged by the work his team did during the day to improve his car’s performance, but is wary of a Mercedes step forward on Saturday.
“I think we improved quite well, even during the session,” Verstappen said. “Of course in FP1 I wasn’t entirely happy and then in FP2 also started still not being easy, but I think on the second set the car felt a lot better, a lot more connected. But it’s still really difficult around here — the car is very open, it’s quite windy out there so it’s not easy to nail the lap, let’s put it like that. But I think overall it’s been a good end to the day so we can be competitive tomorrow.
Time running out in FP2
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“Difficult to say (if Mercedes is in reach) but for us today was good. You never know what people will find overnight but today also long runs were quite decent. But for sure I expect it to again be very tight, and definitely not easy.”
Despite Mercedes dominating at Paul Ricard in previous years and being particularly strong on similar circuits this season, Lewis Hamilton says it’s no surprise to see Red Bull topping the times on Friday as he still feels he’s struggling with the handling of the W12.
“They’ve been leading for a while now so you’ve got to bet on that they’ll be quick this weekend for sure,” Hamilton said.
“Not much difference to be honest, even though the position is quite a bit different to Monaco and Baku… but quite a struggle this weekend I think probably for everyone. I don’t know if it’s the track surface or it’s the temperature or these inflated tires — they’ve put the pressures up higher than ever before, one of the highest. It’s difficult to say. We are all sliding around and it’s a struggle out there for everyone.
“I am looking at every option. We’ve made lots of changes; we will probably do a lot of analysis again tonight with the hope that it’s going to be better tomorrow but who knows? As I said, the times don’t look terrible — we were close up at the front so at least we were in the battle.”
Bottas also believes a clear two-team fight for pole is shaping up at Paul Ricard, expecting both teams to have more in hand after enjoying a much better start to the weekend himself.
“I think it’s fairly close,” Bottas said. “We expected them to be strong but for now it feels like it’s between us and Red Bull; but it’s a very different track from Baku or Monaco, so we’ll see tomorrow. I’m sure they’ve got a lot more to come and so do we.
“It’s hard to say if it’s the chassis or the track conditions, but there’s a lot better feeling than two weeks ago, that’s for sure, and I felt we started the weekend on the right foot. Everything was feeling OK, being comfortable and pretty fast with the car so far.”