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Mercedes are confident despite close times on short track | 2017 Austrian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

The quickest cars lapped the Red Bull Ring in 65 seconds today. Tomorrow the lap times could dip as low as 64 or even 63 seconds.

As a result the gaps between the quickest cars are much closer than usual. At the end of second practice the top five – two Mercedes, two Red Bulls and Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari – were separated by less than four tenths of a second.

Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, Red Bull Ring, 2017
Austrian Grand Prix practice in pictures

Yet despite the slender margin over its rivals Mercedes enjoyed on Friday, Lewis Hamilton was very satisfied with the W08’s performance on day one. “It’s been a really good Friday with no major headaches to complain about so far,” he reported. “The car feels fantastically fast here. There’s already a nice balance and it feels good out on track.”

Ferrari can draw some encouragement from how close Vettel was to Hamilton’s one-lap pace. The world championship leader has been reacquainted with the new engine he used during practice in Azerbaijan but had to remove before the race. Qualifying was a disappointment for him two weeks ago, but here he may again have the chance to split the Mercedes.

The ultra-narrow margins between the drivers is going to make for an exciting hour of qualifying. A slight set-up error or a driving mistake could have serious consequences, especially in the closely-fought midfield.

On the strength of Friday’s running one team which is well-placed to capitalise is McLaren. Honda’s new spec three power unit appears to have brought some improvement, however modest, allowing Fernando Alonso to post the eighth-fastest time today.

In contrast it looks like being a very tough weekend for Sauber, who laboured over a second slower than any other team with their year-old Ferrari power units.

Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Complete practice times by tyre

2017 Austrian Grand Prix

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