It appears the intense mysterious battle for the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship has already begun after Mercedes finished Friday’s final practice session with a considerable gap to Ferrari.
Earlier in the day, things had looked substantially different as Lewis Hamilton’s fastest FP1 lap – which topped the first 90-minute practice session of 2019 – was less than a tenth ahead of Ferrari’s best efforts.
But, following the second session later this afternoon, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel found himself a whopping eight tenths adrift of Lewis Hamilton’s session-topping lap. Ferrari’s newest driver recruit, Charles Leclerc, faired even worse, not even within a second of the defending World Champion Hamilton.
Ferrari’s large gap may not be representative given the many possible variables: fuel loads, tyre life, energy recovery strategies, and traffic. The gap may also be showing another sinister practice that’s never been officially confirmed by Ferrari: sandbagging.
‘Sandbagging’ refers to a car that is deliberately slowed down to conceal a team’s true pace.
It’s suspected Ferrari employed the practice multiple times during the 2018 season. When Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix in dominant fashion, earlier that weekend he’d finished FP2 seven tenths off the lead. Last time Vettel visited Melbourne he took top honours, despite finishing Friday half-a-second behind.
Even if these instances weren’t reflective of Ferrari sandbagging, it does show that topping Friday practice isn’t conclusively indicative of who will be a race winner.
Sky Sports F1 Pundit and former F1 driver Karun Chandhok said on-air that he believed Ferrari were sandbagging. “They’re waiting to tomorrow to unleash it,” he theorised.
Chandhok continued: “I don’t think we’re seeing a full picture”, before affirming that a lot of what he’s seen throughout today “doesn’t make sense.”