Formula One cars were finally able to take to the track in anger on Saturday morning, and Ferrari teased impressive pace over Mercedes ahead of qualifying later today.
Friday’s two 90-minute practice sessions were cancelled due to poor visibility restricting the medical helicopter’s operation, which meant all 10 teams had four hours of preparatory running to complete in just a single hour.
The cars took to the track immediately, and practice starts were the first order of the day for most, with drivers repeatedly opting to complete laps through the pit lane to take advantage of the dummy grid spot after the last garage to practice their start procedures.
The start will prove particularly crucial to Sunday’s race given the lack of track time over the weekend leaving the circuit relatively green and free of rubber.
Gathering tyre wear data also proved important, with Pirelli’s new-for-2017 tyres an unknown quantity around the circuit. Mercedes completed the session’s most prolific race simulation, with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas completing 18 laps on the supersoft and soft tyres respectively.
Bottas’s run was interrupted, however, when his car’s T-wing — the thing horizontal aerodynamic device on top of the engine cover — snapped off his car and flew off the track.
Red Bull Racing took an early opportunity to attempt a qualifying simulation, with Daniel Ricciardo holding the provisional fastest time two second up on anyone else, but it wasn’t to last once its frontrunning rivals turned up the wick.
Ferrari was next to chase a headline time, and Kimi Räikkönen was the first to usurp the Australian with 1 minute 34.519 second lap, which was soon bettered by teammate Sebastian Vettel, who lowered the bar by 1.2 seconds.
Räikkönen was able to close to within 0.053 seconds of his teammate later in the session, but Mercedes struggled to match the pace.
Neither Hamilton not Bottas could lap within seven-tenths of a second of the Bulls initially, but a fresh set of supersoft tyres bolted onto the cars in the final 10 minutes gave the Silver Arrows another chance at the fastest lap of the session.
Both cars promised scintillating pace, but Bottas complained he was blocked on his quickest lap, while Hamilton compromised his lap by running too deep into the penultimate corner, wasting the opportunity.
Bottas ended up the fastest Mercedes but still 0.3 seconds off the pace, while Hamilton had to settle for fourth and a further 0.2 seconds adrift.
Felipe Massa was fifth, but a distant 1.4 seconds slower than the Ferraris, while Ricciardo ended up 1.6 second behind Vettel’s ultimate lap.
Saturday practice, however, is not necessarily predictive of qualifying results given how little track time the teams have had to prepare throughout the weekend.