Nico Rosberg says he was thrilled to sprint under the lap record in the opening practice session at the Red Bull Ring but is concerned by tyre degradation in the race as he will qualifying on the ultra-soft compound.
In a day curtailed by a sudden rain downpour during FP2, Rosberg was still able to go significantly quicker than last year in his Mercedes and set a new lap record of 1m 07.373s, quicker than the 1m 07.908s set by Michael Schumacher for Ferrari in 2003.
Despite finding impressive pace and relishing the circuit, having claimed back-to-back wins at the Spielberg track, Rosberg feels after qualifying on the new ultra-softs it could cause a race strategy headache due to its high level of drop off.
The new purple-banded softest compound is making its debut at the Austrian circuit after also being used in Monaco and Canada and the current F1 championship leader is concerned by its short tyre life.
“On one lap we seem quick, surprisingly quick maybe, we thought others would be close and it didn't seem like it, but early days,” Rosberg said. “Then for the long run it was difficult with the rain, we couldn't rally practice the long runs for the race so we might have to do it tomorrow morning.
“We are starting the race with the ultra-softs and they seem way too soft for this track. On one lap they are great but after that they disintegrate very quickly so that will be a huge challenge in the race if they fall apart quickly, it could mix things up.”
Rosberg also doesn't feel any track changes need to be made after Max Verstappen broke a front wing plus his front right suspension and steering in separate clashes with the new sausage kerbs.
Due to the rain the German driver isn't certain of the true pace of Mercedes' rivals nor of his own team-mate Lewis Hamilton and expects a bigger challenge from the defending champion in qualifying and the race. In the dry FP1 Rosberg pulled out almost half a second in lap time on Hamilton.
“It was a decent start to the weekend but Lewis didn't get his laps together so he didn't show what he could do,” he said. “I am aware he is going to be fast and it will be difficult to beat him.”