Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas set the pace in practice in Shanghai ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix. In FP1, the Ferrari driver was two tenths faster than his Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton, however, the Englishman didn’t set his fastest time on the softest tyre compound.
In FP2, Bottas was two-hundredths of a second faster than the Ferrari of Vettel. The Finn moved up from fourth to fastest after he switched to the compound of tyre. While Hamilton was half a second off third-placed Max Verstappen in fourth.
Hamilton admits to struggling
Lewis Hamilton says he was “struggling” to get as comfortable with his car as his teammate Valtteri Bottas was during practice in Shanghai, saying that this weekend’s 1,000th race will be a “very close” battle for supremacy.
The first two races in 2019 have seen both Ferrari and his Mercedes team dominate at the first two races. This weekend it is expected to favour Ferrari, following the team’s strong start to the weekend it could be a difficult weekend to predict.
In practice, both teams topped a session each, although the final gap in FP2 was less than a tenth between Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull was just two tenths back, this suggests that all three teams could be close this weekend.
Hamilton told Sky Sports, “I was struggling with the car today, so we’ve got work to do, particularly on my side as Valtteri looked much more comfortable in the car.”
“We’re going to work hard tonight to find some tweaks and hopefully come back stronger tomorrow; the car has the pace in it to compete at the front, we just need to find the right set-up.” You need to expect that Mercedes will find what they need overnight, and be closer in qualifying.
Toto Wolff described it as “frightening”, But Mercedes’ cornering strengths on a circuit that 16 turns of varying speeds mean the world champions cannot be counted out.
Ferrari still preferring Vettel
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has confirmed that Sebastian Vettel will continue to get preference over Charles Leclerc in “50-50 situations” as Ferrari feel he has a better chance to win the world championship.
In Bahrain, Leclerc emerged as the faster and better driver, claiming pole and was robbed of victory by an engine issue. That prompted questions over Ferrari’s pre-season decision that they would give Vettel priority after the German made a number of errors and the strong weekend in Bahrain,
Binotto says Vettel will continue to be preferred in tight battles for now, but insists both drivers are otherwise free to race, and the priority order may change in the future
He told Sky Sports, “As I said at the start of the season, if there is any 50-50 situation where we need to take a decision, then the advantage would be given to Sebastian simply because Sebastian has got most of the experience with the team in F1.”
“He won four championships, and, certainly for us, he’s the driver who has the most probability to challenge for the title. We agreed with both drivers. In a few races’ time, things may chance for whatever reason, bad luck or whatever could be the situation, we may change our position, no doubt.”
Binotto insists on track they are free to fight and if there is one clearly ahead that the priority was to maximise point. Leclerc felt there had been no risk in making the move at Turn One on Lap Six, while Vettel said he was “not surprised” by his teammate’s action.
Vettel said “It is quite clear that he was quite a lot faster at that point. I could have passed him back on the next straight, but I judged it that it’s going to lose me more time and him more time. It didn’t go my way on that Sunday, so at that point, it wasn’t about holding Charles’ Sunday back.”
Leclerc explained: “I think I showed in Australia that the interest of the team is extremely important, but in this particular situation I think I had quite a big pace advantage at that moment in the race.
Honda makes power unit changes
Honda made their first power unit change to both Red Bulls and Toro Rosso’s ahead of Saturday. Daniil Kvyat was the last to change following an assessment by the Japanese manufacturer following FP1.
No confirmation has been made regarding the specific components Honda has opted to change, but a complete set is expected. Drivers can use three internal combustion engines, MGU-Hs and turbochargers in a season, plus two MGU-Ks, control electronics and energy stores, before they receive a grid penalty.
The announcement by Twitter from Honda’s official account stated: “During FP1, we noticed an anomaly in the PU data from Kvyat’s car. With only a short time to investigate the matter fully between FP1 and FP2, we have therefore decided to change the PU on his car as a precautionary measure.”
This season Honda are supplying both Toro Rosso and sister senior team Red Bull who scored the manufacturer’s first podium in Melbourne since 2008. However, the manufacturer has insisted it remains too far behind Mercedes and Ferrari to be satisfied.
Speaking in between Friday’s practice sessions in China, Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe said: “So far we have started this season with a reasonable performance and reasonable results. But ‘reasonable’ means ‘not fantastic yet’. We see clearly there is still a big gap between the frontrunners and us.”
Kubica encouraged by feeling
Robert Kubica has been encouraged by a “different” feeling during practice this weekend in China, as Williams continues to improve its 2019 car.
Although Kubica and teammate George Russell remain stuck at the bottom of the times, Kubica says that he that changes to the car has improved its handling. He said “The car feels a bit different to last two weekends, so that’s a good sign. Now, we have to see the data, what to do, as the balance is quite different to the previous two events.”
“We just did some changes just to understand and it’s not that we have some improvement. It’s just something we changed in the characteristics of the car and it seems like it’s responding differently.” Despite the different feeling, Kubica isn’t expecting a dramatic change in pace.
However, teammate Russell believes that a few minor upgrades brought to Shanghai have lifted the team a bit closer to the cars ahead. Saying “Yeah, I think there were a few positives. I think the long run pace was fairly decent compared to Racing Point. We definitely as a team seem closer, so again that’s positive and all going in the right direction.”
Asked if he sensed progress was coming from new parts or just a better understanding of the car, Russell replied: “We’ve got a couple of little new bits. I’d probably say it’s a bit of both. Everybody is understanding the car, but I think we probably didn’t optimise it as much.”
Verstappen believes Red Bull in the mix
Max Verstappen’s third place in FP2 which was two tenths of the fastest time set by Valtteri Bottas has given team principal Christian Horner some positivity going into this weekend.
The Dutchman would have been even closer to the top two, but he suffered a slide exiting the final corner on his fastest lap, while he also complained of issues with his car’s ‘Friday-only’ gearbox.
Asked by F1.com, if the team could be in the mix this weekend, Horner said, “I think particularly with that wobble from Max in the last corner there, without that he would have been capable of doing the time that Bottas… and Vettel did. So I’m pretty confident that we’ve got a reasonable race car here this weekend.”
He, however, admitted that if the team were to repeat last years win, they would need to overpower the might of a Ferrari team whose car, he was prepared to admit, was the current “gold standard” in the field.
Horner says that they are expecting that Mercedes and Ferrari are going to get faster in ‘party mode’, but is expecting to see step up in performance in qualifying.
Mistake with engine install costs Giovinazzi
Alfa Romeo team principal Fred Vasseur says that a mistake when installing Antonio Giovinazzi’s engine was the reason the Italian missed FP1 in Shanghai.
Giovinazzi was only able to complete the install lap, before being stopped in the garage after the when the team found a fault that it had not detected during car build. The team had to remove the power unit entirely and refit it before Giovinazzi could return to action in the second session.
Vasseur said: “We had an issue on the installation of the engine, and we had to pull away the engine. It was too long to do it during the FP1. It’s a shame because it was a mistake and he missed the first FP1. It’s so tight, so it’s difficult to recover.”
However, the Frenchman confirmed that the installation error had not caused any damage to the engine, but there was still some frustration at the lost track time for Giovinazzi, who is chasing his first points of the year.
Top of The Tweets
Romain Grosjean, Haas “An OK day for us today. Working on the set up tonight to improve for the #ChineseGP #r8g #ChineseGP #race1000”
Kevin Magnussen, Haas “Not quite there yet. Some setup work should get us ready for qualifying tomorrow 💪🏼 #ChineseGP”
Nico Hülkenberg “FP1 + FP2 done! It was smooth running for us across both sessions with no issues and I felt positive and comfortable in the car. At the end of the day a solid baseline to work off heading into Saturday.. 😊 #F1 #Race1000”
Valtteri Bottas “Friday 🇨🇳. Solid day, but looking forward to the next two days 🏁”
Danill Kvyat “FP1 was very productive, we completed all of the laps we had planned and we were happy with our competitiveness. In FP2, we lost quite a bit of time due to the precautionary PU change” – @kvyatofficial”
Sergio Perez “We showed good pace early on this morning, but after some of the changes we made we seemed to be missing something. The goal is still to make Q3 but we need to find something tonight to be in better shape for qualifying.” 🎙️ @SChecoPerez
Tomorrow’s qualifying session remains as difficult to predict as it has been all season, both Mercedes and Ferrari remain in the mix. We will need to see when we get into the session which team has the better performance and engine modes. You can never count out Lewis Hamilton out in Shanghai given his record.
But it is going to come to who can get the power down on the back straight, I don’t believe that Red Bull will be fighting when we get into the business end of qualifying, but should Mercedes or Ferrari be in the wars they could be in the fight.
The forecast is looking OK, so limited chances of a wet qualifying and that means an upset is unlikely. Watch the midfield again as we have seen some brilliant fights in Q2 and Q3, but its hard to say which tea, could get through.