F1’s drivers have spoken glowingly about the fast, physical and unrelenting challenge posed by Mugello after F1’s debut around the circuit on Friday.
“I’m telling you: on the long run it is one of the most-physically demanding circuits that we’ve been at for a while,” declared world champion Lewis Hamilton after an intense day of opening practice.
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The Italian venue in the heart of the picturesque Tuscan hills has been used as an F1 testing venue in the past, and is the long-time host of the country’s motorcycle Grand Prix, but calls from supporters for it to be added to the Formula 1 race calendar have gone unanswered until the unique nature of this particular season present an opportunity.
“It’s a lot of fun and really cool,” said Friday pacesetter Valtteri Bottas, who topped both sessions for Mercedes.
“Once you go after Turn 1, the whole section with those high-speed chicanes and second sector is amazing. Really enjoyed every single lap today.”
And it is the high-speed sweeps of the first sector that caught drivers’ attention.
“Particularly the double right-hander, most of the time we’re flat out through those sections, so it’s just holding your neck [up] the whole time. I love that,” said Hamilton.
“It almost feels like Turkey [Istanbul Park]. It’s incredibly fast through [turns] six-seven and eight-nine. It’s intense, I have to say. It’s amazing to experience it and it’s going to be difficult to look after the tyres through those sections, but everyone is in the same boat.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, a close third fastest behind the Mercedes’ in second practice, said: “It’s a very cool track. So many fast corners and in a Formula 1 car to take, especially Arrabbiata 1 and 2, flat-out is incredible.”
And Pierre Gasly, last week’s surprise winner at Monza, simply remarked: “It’s so good to drive these cars around this track.”
No room for error around Mugello
“There’s no time for play here, it’s a very, very serious track,” admitted Hamilton.
“It’s all medium and high [speed] – you don’t go lower than third or fourth gear. It is so quick and there’s not a lot of run-off area.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris experienced that first-hand after he crashed exiting Turn 13 after running wide over the kerb and touching the grass.
But despite missing the end of the session as a result, the Englishman still admitted: “As much as I hated that there was gravel because of ending up in it and crashing and damaging the car, it’s better like this. It’s more tricky, more challenging and that’s what it should be like.”
Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel both spun off track, while Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen collided.
What happened on the Friday timesheet?
Although they ultimately didn’t win last week at Monza, Mercedes were absolutely dominant on the stopwatch and continued their relentless form into the opening day at Mugello as F1 moved south in Italy.
But for the first time this season, both sessions were topped by Bottas, with Hamilton unusually trailing by margins of five and two tenths of a second respectively.
The world champion, chasing a record-extending 27th win at a different circuit this weekend, acknowledged he had work to do ahead of qualifying, particularly relative to Bottas and Verstappen in sectors one and two.
“I like it. It’s definitely a real challenge. I’m not that great at it just yet, but I’m working at it,” said the six-time champion.
“There’s no amount of changes I need to do to the car at the moment because when you’re experienced as a racing driver there are times when there’s no point changing the car because you’re not driving it well enough.
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