Analysis | Verstappen faster on long runs, how spicy is Hamilton's engine?

10-12-2021 17:00
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Analysis | Verstappen faster on long runs, how spicy is Hamilton's engine?

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are locked on 369.5 points in the World Championship with just one race remaining in the season. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend has started and after two practice sessions, the picture isn't any clearer. Hamilton produced the fastest lap time, but Verstappen went quicker on the long race runs in the second half of FP2. 

Long-run data

As always, teams fill their cars up with fuel to best simulate race conditions. Verstappen put on the soft tyres to start with and looked very strong on this compound. Hamilton's average lap time on his long run was over half a second behind his World Championship rival. That being said, the Brit did improve when Mercedes turned his engine up a little bit. The Brit dipped into the 1:28.6s. 

Driver Average Lap time Tyre
Max Verstappen 1:28.463 Soft
Lewis Hamilton 1:29.102 Medium
Sergio Perez 1:29.122 Medium
Valtteri Bottas 1:29.286 Medium

The tyre options were also interesting. Red Bull Racing opted to split their early strategy and placed Verstappen on the soft tyres. It's possible that the team are looking at a two-stop race in Abu Dhabi with a fast start off the line to attack Mercedes. Given the strengths that Mercedes have in single lap qualifying pace, this would be a strong move for Verstappen. 

A fast start off the line on the soft tyres would give him track position if he finds success on the run down to turn one. Track position in Abu Dhabi has traddtionally been crucial, though the track changes could improve the liklihood of overtaking. Perhaps what is best pleasing for Red Bull, is the fact that Perez is right on par with Hamilton on equal tyres. 

To give Red Bull the best chance of beating Hamilton, they will need both drivers at the front to give strategy options. Leaving Verstappen alone and vulnerable will put them in a very challenging position. 

Best sectors 

Driver Best Sector 1 Best sector 2 Best Sector 3 Best combined
Lewis Hamilton 17.207 36.209 30.275 1:23.691
Max Verstappen 17.381 36.391 30.468 1:24.240
Valtteri Bottas 17.234 36.151 30.372 1:23.757
Sergio Perez 17.440 36.272 30.665 1:24.377

It's all change at the Yas Marina circuit. The slow section before the hairpin has been removed, with some alterations that widen the angle near the hotel section. This created a little bit of an unknown particualrly with sector one. 

The best sector times suggest that the middle sector is very equal and Hamilton is gaining the most time in sector one and sector three. On Saturday, Mercedes will install Hamilton's 'spicy' engine that he used in Brazil and Saudi Arabia. This is expected to give Mercedes some performance gain on the straights especially. 

Elsewhere Esteban Ocon and Alpine had another impressive day. In the last few races of the season, Alpine have been in fine form with almost back-to-back podiums in Qatar and Saudia Arabia. McLaren seem to be lagging behind Ferrari and if that continues on Sunday then Ferrari will comfortably be crowned 'best of the race' in the Constructors Championship. AlphaTauri, Red Bull's junior team, also found themselves in the top ten for on the timesheet in FP2. 

All to play for 

With Hamilton's addition engine, you'd expected the seven-time World Champion to find some extra performance. But in his interview with Sky Sports after the session, Christian Horner spoke about how Red Bull should be able to find lap time in other areas. Friday's data suggests that Mercedes are ahead in qualifying pace, whereas Red Bull are in front on race simulations. 

As mentioned above, a Verstappen start on the soft tyres would give him the change to take track position at the start and control the race. His ran eight laps in his soft tyre stint and seemed to stay around the mid 1:28s following the intial two laps. This would suggest the tyre has a decent lifespan under high fuel loads. 

Through 2021, we've seen the picture change suddenly from Friday to Saturday and there's no reason that won't happen again. 

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