By the time the engines had fired up for Free Practice 2, the track temperature had risen to 42ºC and that was not the only thing hotting up. Lewis Hamilton had recorded the quickest lap time in FP1 and by the end of FP2 he was joined by his teammate Valtteri Bottas. This was supposed to be a Mercedes team who ‘still had some work to do’ but if that is the case the challengers to the throne should be very worried. Or should they? For all in attendance it looked very much like Ferrari was holding something back and if that is the case then at the first qualifying session of the season tomorrow - we may see some very quick times indeed.
FP1 had concluded with hardly anything to choose between Mercedes and Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc could only be kept apart by 0.074s. From the roof of The Paddock Club Grandstand the crowd cheered as the reigning World Champion began his sequence of laps. It would take only 46 minutes of the 90 available to him for Lewis to achieve a time of 1:22.600. Opinion has it that Hamilton has been distant in the paddock seeing how he travelled by scooter down the Melbourne Walk and seemed shut off to his surroundings so perhaps this will improve his mood.
However, during the whole of FP2 Vettel could only improve by 0.164secs and based on pre-season testing…this does not look a realistic outcome. As for tyre choice, the talismanic Ferrari driver ran the soft tyre but still could not get a quicker time than Charles LeClerc which surprised the whole paddock – as LeClerc was running the hard tyre which would surely be the slower of the two.
Amid the cat and mouse games, Kimi Raikkonen fresh from his previous two days of happily signing autographs for a host of fans was an incredible 0.099 seconds of Vettel’s pace. As we have said before, a happy and relaxed Kimi is a very fast Kimi!
As for the crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo, he had to settle for eighth place behind his teammate Nico Hulkenberg but there was only 0.070 seconds between them so I can’t see the Australian too concerned, especially due to the lack of running time.
After reaching the lofty heights of third quickest in FP1, Charles LeClerc was down to 9th place by the time the session drew to a close. The conspiracy theorists were out in force – Ferrari must have a masterplan.
Romain Grosjean closed out the top ten and as for the British rookies it would be 18th place for Lando Norris (1:24.733) and 19th place for George Russell (1.26.453) such a gap will not fill Clare Williams with any confidence, even moreso when 20th place was occupied by the returning Robert Kubica.
So, more questions than answers but this is F1 – we shouldn’t be surprised. Now we wait and see what tomorrow will bring - I can't wait!
Final times after Free Practice 2
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:22.600
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:22.648 +0.048s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda 1:23.400 +0.800s
4 Pierre Gasly Red Bull Racing Honda 1:23.442 +0.842s
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:23.473 +0.873s
6 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari 1:23.572 +0.972s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:23.574 +0.974s
8 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1:23.644 +1.044s
9 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:23.754 +1.154s
10 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:23.814 +1.214s
11 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda 1:23.933 +1.333s
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1:23.988 +1.388s
13 Lance Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes 1:24.011 +1.411s
14 Carlos Sainz McLaren Renault 1:24.133 +1.533s
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari 1:24.293 +1.693s
16 Sergio Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes 1:24.401 +1.801s
17 Alexander Albon Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda 1:24.675 +2.075s
18 Lando Norris McLaren Renault 1:24.733 +2.133s
19 George Russell Williams Mercedes 1:26.453 +3.853s
20 Robert Kubica Williams Mercedes 1:26.655 +4.055s
Jean Todt: 'We couldn’t expect that we would have such a heavy loss in Formula One.'