The battle for pole position for this weekend’s Formula 1® Heineken® Australian Grand Prix 2022 is heating up into a battle between Ferrari and Red Bull with, perhaps, a dash of French.
In the second one-hour practice session on Friday afternoon, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc led the times from Max Verstappen, with the Monegasque driver lapping the 5.28km Albert Park Grand Prix circuit in 1m18.978s, 0.245s clear of the World Champion.
“A bit of a harder Friday on my side today,” Leclerc said on Friday evening. “FP1 was a bit tricky, I improved quite a bit the driving, but there is still a lot of work to do. I don’t think anybody really put a lap together today.
“We need to keep focusing on ourselves. Tomorrow’s Qualifying, hopefully we will have a good day.”
Verstappen was far from happy with the performance of his car.
“P1 and beginning of P2 we were lacking a bit of balance,” the reigning world champion said. “For the final run, we changed the car around a bit and I felt a lot happier.
“We are a tiny bit off Ferrari, but I do think we can make it a little bit closer. But in the long run, everything felt quite stable and quite nice so I am happy about that.
"We have little bit of work to do but we are more or less there.”
Third-fastest was Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz, who continues to want the team to be seen as an underdog rather than a favourite.
“We keep saying that Red Bull and Mercedes are the favourites because we haven’t been in a title fight in the last few years,” Sainz said. “We are still super cautious.”
But it was the fourth-placed driver who caught the eye of many of the 110,000-plus fans at the circuit.
Fernando Alonso took that result for the Alpine team, with his teammate Esteban Ocon two places back. The speed of the blue and pink cars was something of a surprise, given that veteran Alonso was off the road in the opening practice session.
“We had some minor things that delayed us a little in Free Practice 1, but we still managed a pretty normal day for us,” said Alonso. “We completed a good amount of running and got a lot of information from both sessions. There are some balance issues that we need to solve, especially on the higher fuel runs.”
Reigning Australian Grand Prix winner, Valtteri Bottas, was seventh-fastest for Alfa Romeo on his return to Albert Park.
Lando Norris was in eighth place for McLaren, two places ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The West Australian has set himself the goal of qualifying in the top ten on Saturday.
Lewis Hamilton had a tough day, and was only 13th fastest in the afternoon session, 1.54s behind Leclerc.
“It’s just nothing we change on the car makes a difference at the moment,” he said. “So that’s the difficult thing. You’re getting very optimistic, and then you make changes, and then it doesn’t seem to be wanting to improve.
“We made some changes going into P2. P1 was better. P2 ended up being a bit harder for me. So I don’t know, it’s just a tricky car.”
Sebastian Vettel’s bad Friday continued, as his Aston Martin could not be repaired from its FP1 engine failure in time to make the session. The former Australian GP winner will also face the stewards, as he returned to the pits after is breakdown by riding a marshal's scooter on the track without permission.
The F1® cars return to the track for the third one-hour practice session on Saturday afternoon, set for 1pm, before the all-important Qualifying session, which is set to start at 4pm.