Friday analysis: Red Bull dominant, Ferrari fifth-fastest?

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Ferrari may find themselves embroiled in a fight for second place in the constructors’ championship, but the Italian marque appear to be as far back as the fifth-fastest team in Abu Dhabi after the second practice session on Friday.

In terms of qualifying pace, this appears to be a fair estimate. The second session saw the teams complete their qualifying simulations using low fuel and option tires with Red Bull romping to a one-two finish. Fernando Alonso was the leading Ferrari down in eighth place whilst Felipe Massa could only finish P10. These may seem to be poor results, but it was in fact a marked improvement on eleventh (Alonso) and seventeenth (Massa) in the first session on Friday afternoon.

The second half of FP2 saw the teams complete their race simulations, which is where Ferrari usually improve and show signs of pace that can typically secure them at least one podium finish. However, in Abu Dhabi, it appears to be a very different story when we crunch the numbers.

Let’s start with Sebastian Vettel, the fastest man. He completed two substantial runs on the option tire of six and eight laps respectively, with his fastest time in these runs being 1:46.103. During both runs, his laps only left the 1:46.XXX region on one occasion, and both drops in time signalled that it was time to pit as the tires had been pushed far enough. Mark Webber was also impressive, but his times largely dotted around in the 1:47s.

Mercedes also stayed in the 1:47s for their runs, with Lewis Hamilton’s mammoth sixteen run stint producing a best time of 1:47.090 whilst Nico Rosberg dotted into the high-1:46s during the final part of his run on fourteen-lap-old tires. Similarly, Lotus’ times were largely in the 1:47s for Kimi Raikkonen, but Romain Grosjean suffered a broken brake disc and was limited to just eighteen laps.

The surprise package of practice was McLaren, though – or, more specifically, the under-fire Sergio Perez. The Mexican driver also stayed within the 1:47s for the bulk of his run, with his fastest time being 1:47.299, suggesting that McLaren have made a step forward in Abu Dhabi. Similarly, Jenson Button was consistent with his pace, although he could dip into the 1:47 region just once during his longest run of ten laps.

For Ferrari though, it was a difficult session. Fernando Alonso’s longest run with sixteen laps, but he failed to sustain a pace anything like that of Mercedes or Red Bull, averaging in the mid-to-low 1:48s. Felipe Massa’s runs were shorter and slightly quicker, but again, not a scratch on that of McLaren.

However, practice is exactly that: practice. An awful lot can change between Friday night and Saturday’s qualifying session, meaning that it would be foolish to rule Ferrari out just yet. Nevertheless, the early signs are that this is a race Red Bull will run away with and McLaren will return to form at.