Michael Schumacher ended the Friday practices with the fastest lap on the Shanghai International Circuit. The German's best lap of 1:35.973 was set in the afternoon session on a still damp but drier track than what the drivers faced in the morning rain on the 5.451km (3.387 miles) circuit.
The Chinese Grand Prix is the third round of the 2012 FIA Formula One championship, and the top three teams again dominated with the seven times world champion setting the pace in his Mercedes prior to tomorrow’s final practice and qualifying. Schumacher was third fastest in practice one.
I am looking forward to tomorrow's qualifying.
Commented Schumacher, "It was a trouble-free day, and I am quite happy with how our car is handling so far here. The balance of the car was reasonably good, and obviously a balanced car contributes a lot to lap time. As a team, we are a lot stronger in certain areas this season, and we have a much better base to work from, although we are not quite where we want to be with this car yet but I am confident we will get there. We will now have to look deeper into the data in order to find out where we really are here, but I am looking forward to tomorrow's qualifying."
Fastest in the morning timesheet was taken by McLaren-Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. The Briton was second overall for the day with his best lap of 1:36.145. Third on Friday’s combined practice times was the defending two-time champion Sebastian Vettel. The Red Bull driver clocked his best lap this afternoon with a 1:36.160.
“It’s been a great day – it stayed dry in the afternoon so we successfully got through our run programme. We’re still working away to improve the set-up, but the new bits on the car seem to be working: the guys back at the factory have done a great job. We look competitive – and I’ve been particularly focusing on the longer runs for this weekend. We still need to make a few improvements but our car looks good,” said Hamilton.
The rain that came was actually a drizzle but enough to affect the drivers from setting fast times, and for most of the morning, it looked like Mark Webber would hold the top spot in his Red Bull Renault. Not everyone was out setting laps as they waited to take to the circuit; Jenson Button was not in a hurry to hop into his McLaren. Webber was on one set-up for his RB8 while Vettel was on another and yet their times were not that far apart.
Vettel said, “It is tight between the cars. I haven’t seen everything, but I think overall we can be quite happy. We tried a lot of things today and now we need to go through everything and see what the best set-up is.”
As the track dried, and the times came down, it was a beehive of activity in the pit lane garages and on the track. Schumacher was the first to take the fastest time away from Webber before his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg jumped to the top of the timesheets. Hamilton wasted little time to lay down the best lap time for the first practice; bouncing Rosberg off the top of the charts.
With a drier track, the afternoon saw the real speed of the Formula One cars in the 90 minutes for the second practice of the day. It also produced more action of those who bounced over the kerbs, and some who went flying over a still wet patch and ended up spinning; plus the off-track moments. The locking of the front brakes was very noticeable as they headed into Turn 14; mainly on the McLarens.
Webber ended with the fourth best time of 1:36.433. Fifth went to Rosberg at 1:36.617 followed by Button whose best was a 1:36.711.
The best of the rest outside of the top three team cars from Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull was taken by the Sauber team. This time it was Kamui Kobayashi’s turn to shine with his fastest lap of 1:36.956. Following close behind was Force India’s Paul di Resta despite a dramatic spin but the Scottish driver saved it, and later came back out to set his best lap time. Di Resta was not the only one who did a nice pirouette; Kobayashi, Bruno Senna, Heikki Kovalainen, and Kimi Raikkonen also had their own moment.
Sauber’s Sergio Perez scored his first Formula One podium in the wet conditions at Malaysia, and in the rain this morning he was fourth fastest but in practice two, he was down the chart with the 11th best time; close to the time set by his Force India teammate was Nico Hulkenberg.
Fernando Alonso was the victor in the Malaysian GP, and he today continued to lead the way for the Ferrari team while teammate Massa commented on the team radio that that his car was handling “strange”. Neither had stellar times today, and Alonso explained: “It was a normal Friday, based mainly on evaluating new aerodynamic parts in FP1 and on the usual tyre tests in FP2. As always, we tried to work out which would be the fastest compound to use in qualifying and which the most consistent over a long run. Felipe and I split the workload on track and now, this afternoon it is down to the engineers to analyse the data and take the best decisions for tomorrow, both in terms of the updates we have brought for this race and from what we have learned regarding the tyres."
The Scuderia Toro Rosso team drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were not far off the pace of Alonso. Both Lotus Renault drivers were also close on the timesheets with Raikkonen setting the faster time over Romain Grosjean; they did complain of not finding good tyre temperatures.
For the Williams team, it was Pastor Maldonado who set the best lap time; just a bit faster than teammate Senna.
Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov were fairly equal for the Caterham team. Both were faster than the Marussia (Timo Glock and Charles Pic), and HRT (de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan) team cars.
For Marussia, their lead driver Glock had the most dramatic moment of the day when he lost control and the nose of the car went flying off at Turn 1. The shock was the way the incident happened and the questions to why the nose which appeared unhurt came off. Glock ended up going through the gravel before coming to a rest alongside the wall. His only immediate comment was “pain in my hand”; but apparently the German was fine.
Tomorrow, the teams will setup for qualifying, and Hamilton commented, “I’ll be changing the gearbox on my car before P3. It’s going to be a close qualifying session tomorrow – it’ll be a good battle and hopefully we can start as high up the grid as possible because I think we’ll still be in the race and among the leading group. I love the challenge of coming through and gaining positions.”