Mercedes has ‘made steps’ after Styrian defeat

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes is confident it has made steps in the right direction following the first day of practice for this weekend’s Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas topped Free Practice 2 on Friday at the Red Bull Ring, a reversal in fortunes of sorts from last weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix.

At that event, held in much warmer conditions, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen proved the class of the field.

However, based on the evidence on offer in the second practice session, that advantage appears to have been eroded.

“It’s been an interesting day; we’d been busy this week trying to find improvements on both the chassis and the power unit and from today’s running it does look like we’ve made some steps in the right direction,” explained Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director.

“The conditions are quite different to last week, cooler air and a much cooler track which is certainly helping deal with the softer compounds.

“The single lap was encouraging in that we were extracting good grip from the tyres, not always something we have managed on the softest Pirelli rubber, but we’re under no illusion that Red Bull will have plenty in hand for tomorrow.”

Despite the apparent gains, and topping the day, Hamilton continued to play the underdog card.

“Red Bull have definitely got something extra in their bag but we’ve made some small steps forward and over a single lap, the car felt pretty good,” he suggested.

“FP1 was a bit of a struggle, we were trying different set up variations based on our work in the sim this week and the car wasn’t happy.

“In FP2, we reverted to a similar set up as last week, with a few other adjustments, and the car felt much better.

“I probably won’t change much now because most often if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! So just tiny tweaks for me this evening.

“I still expect Red Bull to be ahead of us, but we’ll be trying to make the gap as small as possible tomorrow.”

Across the garage, Bottas suggests this weekend has started more promising than a week ago.

The Finn proved the faster of the two Mercedes drivers in qualifying trim, though a grid penalty for spinning in the pit lane meant he started behind Hamilton come last Sunday’s race.

“I think we started okay in terms of how the car feels, much better than last week, so hopefully we can build from that,” he said.

“It’s practice so you never know what programmes other teams are running – no doubt the Red Bulls are still strong and they are gaining on the straight which has been a bit of a weakness for us but we’ll find out tomorrow when everybody turns their engine up.

“Max was a bit out of reach last weekend but it’s a new week, we’ve learned a lot, I like to think we’re closer but no doubt they’ll still be very quick.”

Qualifying for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix gets underway at 23:00 AEST this evening.

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