The fact that, contrary to expectations from earlier in the week, it remained dry throughout both of today’s free practice sessions at the tricky Jose Carlos Pace circuit was a real bonus for all the teams. Because while no rain fell, there were plenty of other factors for the drivers and engineers to juggle with today. To start with, the entire 4.309 kilometres of the second shortest venue on the calendar has been entirely resurfaced. It looks as though it has been given a new lick of black paint. The shiny dark heat-absorbing colour would certainly have contributed to the fact that, in the second session, track temp hit 57 degrees, around 20 degrees higher than in the morning.
Grip was good right from the start and the track evolved throughout the day. However, there were already signs of graining and blistering, which made it even more complicated as a couple of red flags in FP2 meant most people never got the long run data they’d been hoping for on either the Soft or the Medium tyre. One of those red flags was caused by Fernando Alonso’s F14 T catching fire in spectacular fashion as the power unit let go with 20 minutes remaining. At this stage of the season, everyone is running old engine units on the Friday to save the fresher ones for the competitive part of the weekend. So it was a distraction, but not too costly in terms of time lost and of course, no penalties are incurred on a Friday. As for Kimi, he reckons the F14 T is coming round to the way he likes it.
If it’s dry in tomorrow’s final hour of free practice, then all teams will want to check out their long run tyre performance, but if it rains, then that’s a completely different ball game, on a track where water drainage has usually been a problem. Wet or dry, tomorrow afternoon’s qualifying could be very exciting as, like at all the shorter tracks on the calendar, traffic, especially in Q1 can be a problem.
Fernando Alonso: “Today we knew that the power unit had reached the end of its cycle. So there was a risk we wouldn’t finish the second session, but this was part of the programme we have been on for a few races now. It’s always a shame not being able to use all the time available, even though I don’t think it affected our work too much. The new track surface produced a lot of grip and it was extremely difficult to put together a good lap, because tyre behaviour changed from corner to corner. With a new surface, what effect the rain will have is always an unknown factor, so it’s impossible to make predictions. That would have been the case at Sochi too, but it didn’t rain there, so it means we have to be ready for every eventuality.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “This was a better Friday than past ones and thanks to the work we did on the car, we got a good response from the changes we made in both sessions. In the first session we concentrated on set-up work and aerodynamic measurements. Because of my usual problems with the front end, we tried to eliminate anything that might have been causing them. In the afternoon, on the Soft tyres, the lap times were good and I’m sure that, without traffic, I could have done even better. Because of the red flags, we were unable to do a race simulation, but everything can change over the next days, because the weather forecast is very uncertain. In the dry, the car is going quite well, but we know that, if it rains, the track conditions could change things around.”
Pat Fry: “The new track surface meant that understanding tyre behaviour was immediately the main focus of our attention and so, in both sessions we tried to do as many laps as possible. In the first session, the weather gave us a lot of room to manoeuvre and the times came down lap after lap as the track improved. In the morning we did some testing and worked on car balance, then in the afternoon, evaluating the consistency of the two compounds was complicated by the rising temperatures, with the asphalt almost 20 degrees higher than in the morning. On the one hand, we got a reasonably clear picture of where we stand in these conditions. Now we have to bear in mind that, if it rains, we would have to start again from zero, but in dry conditions it will also be very important to understand to what extent graining will affect performance. Fernando’s power unit had done a very high mileage and we were well aware that this would have been its last Friday on track, although it’s a shame to have lost the final 20 minutes of track time.”