Vowing his pointsfree effort last weekend in Japan is behind him, Formula One world drivers' title points leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes topped practice timesheets in first and second practices Friday ahead of Sunday's Grand Prix of ...
Vowing his pointsfree effort last weekend in Japan is behind him, Formula One world drivers' title points leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes topped practice timesheets in first and second practices Friday ahead of Sunday's Grand Prix of China.
Although his Ferrari driving title rival Felipe Massa was close behind in first practice -- with Ferrari's world champion Kimi Raikkonen third and McLaren No. 2 Heikki Kovalainen fourth -- second practice featured the Renaults piloted by Fernando Alonso and Nelsinho Piquet pushing into the top three, improving by 12 and 15 places, respectively. Massa was sixth-quick in second practice, Raikkonen eighth.
Hamilton, who holds a five-point lead on Massa and is 12 points ahead of BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, covered the 3.387-mile Shanghai International Circuit in 1 minute, 35.630 seconds in first practice, 1:35.750 in second. Hamilton was the only driver below the 1:36 mark.
To win the drivers championship this weekend, Hamilton must win with Massa placing fifth or worse, take second with Massa placing seventh or below, or place third with Massa not scoring.
Fifteen drivers were within a second of each other in second practice as rubber went onto the track, adding adhesion. One of them, Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais, put his STR3 into the top three before he beached it in a gravel trap and ended his day early. He ended up seventh quickest with his rising star teammate Sebastian Vettel mired in 15th. Several drivers, including Hamilton, made use of the Shanghai circuit's generous runoff areas. Raikkonen, Piquet and Rubens Barrichello spun.
Jarno Trulli of Toyota improved from 18th to fourth from one session to the next in the biggest improvement. Mark Webber of Red Bull was fifth, up from 11th. Nick Heidfeld of BMW Sauber, seventh in first practice, rolled to ninth-quick in second.
Kubica, the only driver besides Hamilton and Massa who could win the drivers' title, was fifth-quick in first practice with a 1:36.507. He lost just over two-tenths of a second in second practice and found himself down in 12th.
Nico Rosberg improved from 15th to 10th as the day progressed. Toyota driver Timo Glock was 11th, up from 16th. By afternoon, Kovalainen clocked in 13th after the morning effort put him fourth. Red Bull's David Coulthard, who looked poised to crack a quick time in the final laps of second practice, wound up 14th, same as first practice.
Williams rookie Kazuki Nakajima slipped from 13th to 16th despite improving his best lap by seven-tenths of a second.
Bottom placers in first practice, the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella gave way to the Hondas of Jenson Button and Barrichello in the second go-round.
Teams spend their first track time at a race weekend -- two 90-minute practice periods on Friday -- to collect data, check tires, choose chassis settings and so forth, but speed matters. Ferraris taking only sixth and eighth spots in second practice, Massa ahead of Raikkonen, could sound a note of concern for the Prancing Horse, attempting to defend constructors' and drivers' titles with two races left in the season.
Raikkonen won the Chinese race a year ago after race leader Hamilton slewed off course into a gravel trap attempting to pit for a tire change. Another victory, at the final race in Brazil, let Raikkonen make up a 17-point deficit to Hamilton and take the 2007 World Drivers' Championship.
Both practice sessions stayed dry but rain is forecast as possible throughout the weekend.
Track performance momentarily took circus minds off other issues, including drivers' support for a former driver being named as a sort of steward supervisor in hopes of making penalties consistent, drivers meeting to chat about Hamilton's driving in braking zones, the FIA voicing concern about the sudden sinking this week of the French Grand Prix, and the FIA seeking a single engine supplier by 2010 as part of an effort to halve the costs of racing.