Lewis Hamilton has started this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix by topping both of Friday’s practices. The Mercedes driver was three tenths faster than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in FP1, although the Finn narrowed the gap to a tenth in FP2. Valtteri Bottas was third in both sessions.
Hamilton man to beat?
As we have been saying all week since we knew about his grid penalty in Bahrain, this is a race where Lewis Hamilton just seems to be at one with the car. We knew that the straight-line speed historically is where Mercedes have won here for the past four years and Hamilton himself has four wins.
However, as we saw the gap between the top three is very close on single lap pace. Hamilton we know has this style of late-breaking which helps him in the long back straight, which I believe is so important for qualifying and the race if you are able to break the DRS zone into twelve.
Hamilton said, “Ferrari are still quite quick and Red Bull were really quick on the long run. It is good to see all the times so close the car balance is good but we have some work to do on it tonight, just some fine-tuning. And I think tomorrow is going to be wet but this is a fun track in the wet.”
I think last weekend, we saw how close Hamilton was in the race and how he was in touch with the win in Bahrain despite starting ninth. Mercedes certainly has the straight-line speed and that is important if they are to break Sebastian Vettel’s role he has had in the first two races!
McLaren fined for unsafe release
McLaren has become the latest team to be fined following an unsafe release on Stoffel Vandoorne’s car in second practice. The FIA has begun an investigation into the fifth incident of pit stop issues in the first three race weekends.
In Melbourne, both Haas was forced to retire from the race because of cross-threaded during pit stops and Ferrari made a similar mistake during practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
On Sunday in Bahrain, a Ferrari mechanic suffered a broken leg when Kimi Raikkonen’s car was released too early from its pit stop after another issue during a tyre change.
The stewards said, “The stewards reviewed the video and audio of the pit stop of Car 2 at 15:14 and heard from the team representative. The stewards determined that the car was released in an unsafe condition in breach of Art. 28.13(b) as the wheel was not properly attached to the car when released.”
“The driver stopped the car in a safe manner as soon as the above became apparent to him. Consistent with previous decisions of a similar nature, the stewards decided that the grid place penalty mentioned in the above Article would not be applied as the driver took all appropriate actions at the first available opportunity.”
Red Bull slightly off the mark
Red Bull appear to be part of that group with Mercedes and Ferrari, however, I believe that the problem that the team will have will be matching the top two teams in qualifying. Max Verstappen was three tenths off in FP2 and Daniel Ricciardo was half a second off in FP1.
Ricciardo after FP2, where he took a step backwards to ninth and was a further half a second off the pace, he says that was be wasn’t able to find time when using the ultrasoft tyre for qualifying simulations.
“The ultrasoft I struggled with on the qualifying run. This morning and this afternoon we didn’t really find much time with it. I didn’t find a good balance on that today, we went two tenths quicker from the soft to that, and it’s two compounds softer, so we struggled to get one lap out of it.
“We used that tyre two times today and both times I wasn’t happy with it. On long runs we were able to manage it a bit better but we couldn’t get much out of it with low fuel.” But the Australian is hopeful the team can make improvements overnight and his strategy could be to avoid the ultrasoft tyre as much as possible.
Force India’s “fundamental” problem
Force India has admitted that its 2018 car is being held back by a “fundamental” problem that is affecting the cars balance in the corners.
The Anglo-Indian team has struggled since the start of testing and has been looking for a solution to the problem for the last two months. That was despite the initial doubts the team had with the data it was in Australia that it fully realised the trouble it was in.
When asked by Motorsport.com about when the team was aware of its issue, technical director Andy Green said: “It started probably between the Barcelona tests and Melbourne.
“We were a bit dubious about the data we were receiving, whether it was real or not, and then we needed to perform more tests on the car and some additional logging on the car, instrumentation, to see if it was a real phenomenon or not.
“Everything we have seen so far suggests it is real, so we have been attacking it to try to instigate a change. But as of yet we have yet to make any real inroads into it.”
Green says that there is an update which should be in place for the Spanish Grand Prix. Renault Sport chief technical officer Bob Bell said it was “surprising” how far back teams like Force India and Williams were this season.
Liberty sets May deadline for engines
Ferrari’s team principal Maurizio Arrivabene says the sports owners Liberty Media have agreed a May deadline for confirmation of the 2021 engine regulations.
Liberty set out their proposals in October, but teams and the FIA have not reached a final agreement. In Bahrain, all four manufacturers had made their position clear to F1’s bosses before the Bahrain meeting.
Speaking at the press conference, the Italian said “Liberty, if I’m not wrong, they gave us a deadline for the end of May, I think. I hope that this deadline is going to be respected. It’s a bit early somehow, and it’s far, if you are looking at the situation from another point of view, a technical point of view, concerning the engines.
“We, Mercedes, Renault and Honda sent a letter one month ago explaining in detail our position. Now it’s quite clear.” Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost added “I think the power unit regulation has to be finalised soon, May/June,” he said. “Otherwise I don’t think it’s possible for new manufacturers to come into F1, because time is running away.”
Like Force India, Williams has been underperforming in the first two races of the season. I think their problem both last season and this one has been the change in the aero regulations, as they were strong in the first three years of the hybrid V6 era.
Yes Lance Stroll had that spin in FP2, but I think they struggle with aero we saw this also with the 2009 regulation changes when they didn’t progress over the winter. Stroll says that he has been “shocked” with the backwards step.
In both of today’s session’s Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin were in the Q1 drop zone. The Canadian told Sky Sports “There are a lot of things to sort out – our straight-line speed, our handling. Everything needs work. In Bahrain, it was shocking how big of a step backwards we had made. I was four tenths slower than I was last year.
“We were losing time on the straights. We haven’t improved. We improved a little bit in the corners, but not even close to the extent we were hoping for.
Stroll believes the team has not made progress from 2017 and were now, as a result, losing out where they were previously strong.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes “A good day. It always feels great to be back out on the track in Shanghai. We face strong competition this weekend and I look forward to qualifying tomorrow when we put all of our learnings to the test 🇨🇳 #ChineseGP #F1 @MercedesAMGF1”
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes “Enjoyed Friday 🇨🇳🏁 Looking like another close fight for the win ahead for us this weekend. Bring it on! #VB77 #VB100 #F1 #ChineseGP @MercedesAMGF1”
Charles Leclerc, Sauber – Alfa Romeo “Good pace with Medium & Soft, struggling a bit more with the UltraSoft but it will be fine. Tomorrow FP3 & Quali !! 😬”
Force India “”Both drivers are reasonably happy with the balance of the car, but temperatures are very low and it’s been quite windy throughout the day. Adapting to the changing weather over the weekend will be very important.”
Tomorrows Qualifying session I believe will be favourable to Mercedes because of the layout of the circuit, the team has taken the last six poles and Hamilton has taken the most of them. Hamilton is the favourite for the whole weekend, he has been very successful most wins, poles and podiums.
I believe that the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari will be close but Mercedes have that straight line speed advantage. We know timing is important as fluctuations in air and track temperatures can make it hard to turn on the tyres.
The session will be more difficult for Toro Rosso, I feel that Honda still lacks the straight line speed that is needed by the cars on that 1,170-metre straight is where the team may lose out.