Following a rather quiet Malaysian Grand Prix, McLaren Mercedes proved Friday in the first two Chinese Grand Prix practices that they were back with Lewis Hamilton recorded the fastest lap of the day in a one minute, 35.217 second lap in cold and...
Following a rather quiet Malaysian Grand Prix, McLaren Mercedes proved Friday in the first two Chinese Grand Prix practices that they were back with Lewis Hamilton recorded the fastest lap of the day in a one minute, 35.217 second lap in cold and hazy conditions.
"We may have topped the timesheets in each session, but I don't necessarily think today's times make us the favourites for this race. The car does feel good, but our pace looks pretty similar to some of the other cars on long runs," said Hamilton. "Everyone talks about us having a straight-line advantage, but that's not true -- other cars have the same speed as us at the end of the straight. We're a little bit quicker than some teams, but, equally, they're able to run more downforce. It's about getting a good balance -- and we feel we've got that."
Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes GP took the second best time at one minute, 35.465 seconds. "We made good progress on the set-up over the course of the day and tried some new directions which all seemed to work ok," Rosberg said. "I did lose a little bit of balance with too much oversteer at the end of the afternoon so we need to look into the reasons for that. The long runs were pretty good on my side and with the work that Michael completed, we should be in a good position on our tyre evaluations. The pattern looks pretty similar to Malaysia in terms of our pace compared to other teams but we'll have to wait and see how it works out tomorrow."
Hamilton's teammate, Jenson Button, recorded third best at a one minute, 35.593 on the Shanghai International Circuit. The defending world champion was the fastest in the first practice.
"Today's been good. This afternoon was a little frustrating: on my new-tyre run I ran into traffic -- which you seem to get in every session -- but the actual work we've done, and the direction we've taken, has been positive. There are a few more things we need to do, but we're almost getting the maximum out of the car -- especially on the long runs," Button said. "Of course, some of the teams haven't shown their hand yet, but you can tell from the long-run times that they're competitive. Maybe we're not on their pace yet, but we've got tonight to make further improvements to the car."
Hamilton laid down his fastest time midway through the second practice, and after this was achieved, the rest of the session was rather uneventful for the rest of the drivers.
Michael Schumacher set the the fourth fastest time of the day in his Mercedes GP, but the seven time world champion was never much of a threat to the top three. "Today's practice sessions went better than I had expected. The handling was pretty much ok and it seems that we have made a small step forward. We brought some improvements here including the new rear wing which have helped," he said.
"So I am quite confident for the rest of the weekend even if the overall ranking will not change much from the first three races. I was a bit unlucky this morning as I had a puncture on my rear left prime tyre so we had to use one from the afternoon's allocation. That meant I only had three new tyres in the second session but it worked out fine in the end," added Schumacher.
Fernando Alonso, who has been using the same engine since the opening race in Bahrain, finally saw it expire in the final practice session, ending the drama with his Ferrari in smoke and flames. The Spaniard was not happy with events, and blamed a hapless back marker that he thought was getting in his way. Nevertheless, Alonso did not worry about the circumstances.
"Clearly I am not happy to have had an engine failure, but I am not the slightest bit worried about it. The engine that I had was changed after qualifying in Bahrain and I would know that sooner or later, it would break. It happened today, but it won't have much effect on our original engine management plan," said an optimistic Alonso.
Button had the fastest time in the first session, but all the excitement of the day was in the early morning as Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Buemi suffered a double suspension failure at 180 miles per hour just ten minutes before the end of the session. Just as he was braking for the 14th turn, both front wheels went flying off due to the failure of the right front upright.
"There's not much to say about what happened in FP1. I braked, the wheels came off and that was it," stated Buemi. "Physically, I was fine though. But I have to say, I am extremely disappointed that, once again, through no fault of my own, I have been unable to run for almost all of the three hours available. I will have to try and catch up on Saturday morning and we will be relying on Jaime's data from today to see which way to go."
Buemi was shaken by the high speed crash, but not injured. Safety officials quickly questioned how one of Buemi's wheels managed to jump into the spectator area after it hit the catch fencing.
Team technical director Giorgio Ascanelli added, "We have resolved the problem, which the many laps completed by Jaime this afternoon confirms. Sebastien's FP1 session was interrupted shortly after the start because of a fluid leak around the pedal area, which we discovered after his installation lap."
A lot of cars had problems in both sessions with grip, and this showed with many of the drivers running into the grass. For the three newcomers Virgin, Lotus and HRT, they have been what many before the start of the season feared, which was that they could become dangerous hazards to the faster cars. One improvement after being disappointing in the opening two races, are the Sauber team, which might be getting their program back together following new aero updates to their car.
Buemi did not return for practice two with Ascanelli explaining that "(The) accident caused some damage to the gearbox and a combination of fixing this problem and changing the front end meant that, despite the best efforts of the mechanics, we could not get Seb out before the end of the day."
Winner of the 2009 event on a extremely rainy circuit, Sebastian Vettel placed his Red Bull Renault fifth fastest in both sessions. "That was good, we had no big issues and the car was working fine. We did quite a lot of laps so it was a solid day. It looks very close; the Mercedes look competitive, as well as the McLarens and Ferraris," he said. "It will be tight tomorrow, but we will see. I had a good race here in 2007 when I finished fourth for Toro Rosso and then last year with the victory, so there are a lot of good emotions and memories attached to this place."
Hamilton was cautious nonetheless, even after his team dominated the practice sessions on Friday. "I wouldn't say it will be easy here but the Ferraris and the Red Bulls still have a good pace over a race distance and there is a lot to do. We have to qualify well and then do the job in the race and maybe we will have something to celebrate."
With the weather for the rest of the week predicted wet, Hamilton might just get his wish and achieve his first win of this season.