Back to business in Melbourne, with Lewis and Valtteri showing strong early form
Fascinating battle in Melbourne
As the Australian sun beamed down over the Melbourne Grand Prix circuit, Lewis and Valtteri signed off the opening Friday of the 2017 Formula One season with similarly beaming smiles after a productive first day at the wheel.
Lewis set the pace in both sessions, posting a 1:24.220 in the morning before smashing into the1m23s bracket during the afternoon – his lap of 1:23.620 just a tenth shy of the all-time circuit record posted by Sebastian Vettel back in 2011.
It was the German driver and Ferrari team-mate Kimi Räikkönen who came out fighting during the afternoon session, echoing their strong pre-season form to lay down the early marker in a fascinating battle between the prancing horse, the Silver Arrows and the charging bulls of Red Bull Racing. And according to Lewis, that theme looks set to continue through the weekend.
“Coming into today, we really didn't know where we'd be”, said Lewis. “We knew from FP1 that the Ferraris weren't at their maximum. Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick. We'll see tomorrow how it really stands.
Lewis: It was 99 per cent perfect
“After struggling with some issues in Barcelona, we didn't know if we'd have the same thing here. What's really encouraging is that we've arrived at the track just a week later and the car is exactly where it should be. It's feeling great out there and the guys have done a fantastic job.
“We've shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tyres performed really well today too.”
So, a thoroughly satisfied triple Champion, then. And not just with the on-track performance, but the reception from the enthusiastic Australian crowd.
“It's great to be back in Australia and I'm super happy to be back in the car - particularly after a first day like that,” he said. “It was 99 per cent perfect.
“I feel very much at home in Melbourne. There's always a great buzz here and a lot of support. I'm just really happy to see everyone and receive their positive energy. I'll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”
Valtteri: We still have work to do with the car balance
Valtteri was second fastest in the morning as the team ended the first practice session with an encouraging 1-2. The Finn then rounded off his first Grand Prix Friday with the Silver Arrows with the third quickest time of the afternoon.
“It was great to be back on track after Barcelona and overall it was a good day today,” he said. “We still have work to do with the car balance but we got all of our running completed without any issues.
Valtteri: Tomorrow we'll find out exactly where we are
“From my side I definitely feel like I can make a step forward tomorrow. It'll be a busy evening for us tonight looking through all the data to see where we can improve but it's a reasonable start. In terms of our pace, it is only practice, so tomorrow we'll find out exactly where we are.
“These tyre compounds are the right choice for this race. The softer compounds all felt good. Everyone is pushing to the limit, as we saw a few times out there today. This track is always quite dirty at the start of the weekend, but we'll get used to it.”
James: I think we can say that today was a smooth day
Meanwhile, on the pit wall, newly-signed Technical Director James Allison was pleased with the team’s strong start to the weekend.
“I think we can say that today was a smooth day,” said James. “Our programme focused on trying out the various tyre compounds that we have available this weekend to see what kind of pace and degradation we can expect from them. We also worked to ensure the car has a reasonable balance with race fuel and lower fuel.
James: Our long run pace looked decent
“Our long run pace looked decent but it's harder to tell where we stand at this stage in terms of single lap pace. We'll find out tomorrow. Overall the car seems strong, so we're looking forward to seeing what we can do with it.”
The Silver Arrows will be back on track on Saturday, as Lewis and Valtteri unleash the beast in Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.