Scuderia Ferrari made the most of Friday's free practice to acquire data and prepare for the rest of the weekend. Apart from fine tuning the car settings and evaluating tyre behaviour, as per every race, this particular Friday there was also the small matter of understanding the impact of the completely new surface laid along the entire track, to get a picture of grip levels and possible tyre degradation.
The first session saw the drivers mainly run the Soft tyres, having to deal with one red flag period after Kimi Raikkonen went off track and a second period of inactivity when light rain meant all drivers headed back to the garages, to avoid any unnecessary risks. Charles and Sebastian did some aero testing also, covering 21 laps each, setting very similar best lap times: 1:28.253 for the Monegasque and 1:28.304 for the German.
In the afternoon, the times dropped steadily as the new surface rubbered in. The Scuderia Ferrari drivers did 30 laps each, working towards tomorrow's qualifying and Sunday's race. This time they ran the Soft and Medium compounds, setting similar times while simulating various stages of the race, by running different fuel loads. The entire planned programme was completed. As for their times, Charles stopped the clocks in 1:26.929, while Sebastian did a 1:27.180.
Charles Leclerc: "It was a tricky day for us. We struggled with our front tyres during the long-runs quite a bit and have to focus on understanding how we can get them to work better. The qualifying pace, on the other hand, was not bad and we also managed to run a lot of tests throughout the day which is positive.
Our competitors are strong and I think that they will only reveal their full potential in qualifying. We will give everything to be competitive and will see where we stand tomorrow."
Sebastian Vettel: "It's good to be driving at this circuit again and the new surface seems a lot smoother than the old one, with a lot higher grip, which makes it good fun. I would say the lap times don't mean much today, as usual on a Friday, but it's clear that our main rivals seem very strong and are the ones to beat.
"It looks quite close between us and Red Bull, but as we were trying some new things on our car, it's a bit hard to judge. We must wait for tomorrow to get a clearer picture of where we are."