2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Friday Pace Analysis: Who has the upper hand in midfield when the teams’ battle for P3 comes to a head?

Mercedes set the pace in Friday’s final practice of the 2020 F1 season, with Valtteri Bottas beating his world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton on time sheets. So, will they put an end to this campaign, which has spawned a seventh consecutive driver and constructor double, how they started? Let’s take a look at the numbers …

RHYTHM OF A LAP

There was a familiar aspect to Friday’s practice schedules for the season finale in Abu Dhabi, with Mercedes once again in the lead.

It was not the smoothest day for the world champions, Hamilton had a problem with the brake pedal assembly in the first practice, and was unable to run the soft tires, while then he also lost his best run on the soft, which I would have put him top, for exceeding the track limits in FP2.

READ MORE: ‘The car is not how I left it,’ says Hamilton after the ‘messy’ first day back with Mercedes after the absence of Covid

The team also had a problem with Bottas’s gas pedal, which was changed as a precaution during the second session.

And like many teams, Mercedes struggled to get the best out of the soft tire, with the duo setting their best FP2 times in the middle, a compound on which Hamilton and Bottas felt much better.

FP2: Bottas leads Hamilton under the lights in Abu Dhabi as Verstappen takes P3


The W11 is particularly strong in the slow corners, as seen in the graph below, maintaining a huge advantage over its rivals and also with a margin, albeit a smaller one, in the medium and fast corners.

Therefore, Mercedes are the favorites for pole and indeed blocking the front row, and our data suggests they have a whopping 0.9s lead over Red Bull. However, this data is slightly skewed as Verstappen’s soft tire race was ruined when he got caught behind Sergio Perez doing a long run.

READ MORE: Norris enjoys the close battle in the midfield in Abu Dhabi, even though it ‘makes our lives more difficult’

Behind them is a brilliant fight for the remaining places in the top 10 on penalties with Renault, Ferrari, McLaren and AlphaTauri separated by just three-tenths of a second. One small mistake could cost you eight spots on the grid, that’s how close you are.


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RACE RHYTHM

As is often the case, Red Bull lags Mercedes when it comes to race pace, rivals around 0.4s / lap off pace.

But there’s a big pinch of salt to take with these numbers, as the data was hit hard by a red flag, caused by Kimi Raikkonen’s fiery Alfa Romeo, and the requirement that teams use Pirelli’s 2021 tires for collect data before next season.

READ MORE: ‘There was nothing scary about that’ – Raikkonen was unfazed by FP2’s considerable fire


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It means that all teams will not have a good picture of their pace in the long run, and several will lose data on certain compounds. Mercedes, for example, failed to do a long race on medium tires, while McLaren did not run on that compound in any of its simulations.

There is absolutely nothing to choose between Racing Point, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren, the quartet separated by just 0.1 seconds, as AlphaTauri drifts from that group. That will explain why both Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat said they had a lot of homework to do overnight to make sure they were in the fight for the rest of the weekend.

READ MORE: Ricciardo says Renault ‘is in a decent place’ despite FP1 failure as it aims to put the team on top

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2020 FP2: Raikkonen becomes a firefighter when a car bursts into flames

VERDICT

Mercedes are the world champions, so it should come as no surprise to see them topping the timesheets in Abu Dhabi and marking themselves as the best in qualifying and in the race.

However, there are unknowns, given that the teams did not complete the proper long runs, and although there is one more practice session left, which takes place in daylight, when conditions will be 14 ° C warmer than we can. wait in qualifying and the race

Several teams experienced granulation on the soft tires, especially on the fronts, but Pirelli expects this to improve over the weekend as adjustments are made to the configuration of the cars.

READ MORE: Russell admits to having a ‘weird feeling’ after missing driving Mercedes but determined to do Williams’ ‘duty’


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Bottas may have led FP2, but there are still unknowns

Some are anticipated to attempt to pass Q2 on the medium tire, opening up their strategy options for the race, especially as Pirelli suggests there is little to choose between the hard and medium.

IDEAL LAP: Bottas is the fastest, but Hamilton returns ready to attack

The world championships can be decided, but there is a three-team fight for P3 in the constructors’ standings – Racing Point, Renault and McLaren – and they are all incredibly even.

Much, then, to be excited about as F1 prepares to lower the curtain on an extraordinary season.

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