It’s only Friday and there’s a long way to go but Ferrari bosses will be sleeping well tonight after dominating the second practice session. Earlier in the day it had been advantage Mercedes and problems galore for Williams.
The first practice session saw Nico Rosberg finish 0.146 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton but it was a session filled with incident. Rosberg had to “limp home” in his Mercedes with what was revealed to be an ignition problem.
There were more serious problems though for Williams and Renault. Felipe Massa had not one but two left-rear wheel failures in his Williams. His teammate Valtteri Bottas said he’d had problems too but not quite so serious as those suffered by Massa. A problem with rim clearance was discovered to be the problem, better to discover that on Friday than Sunday. Kevin Magnussen in his Renault had a suspected broken left rear suspension. All of that led to the session being stopped for half an hour.
Sebastian Vettel was third fastest in the first practice session and 0.628 seconds behind Rosberg, with Daniel Ricciardo fourth and the other Ferrari driven by Kimi Raikkonen in fifth. Jenson Button had a good session finishing eight in his McLaren. His teammate Fernando Alonso was 12th as he made his return from injury. Checks are still being made on how he progresses and whether he’ll be allowed to take part in the Grand Prix on Sunday.
The second practice session definitely belonged to Ferrari with Raikkonen fastest 0.109 seconds ahead of Vettel. “If we get everything right, we can potentially be a bit closer,” said Vettel. “But it is only Friday, so I wouldn’t put too much importance in the times.”
Rosberg finished third, 0.237 seconds behind Raikkonen and Hamilton in fourth a further 0.196 seconds behind. A repeat of that in qualifying would see Hamilton starting in ninth place on the grid due to his five-place penalty.
The defending champion described his day as “difficult” and added it had been “quite windy.” He accepted that the Ferrari’s are “particularly strong” and feels Mercedes will “have a bigger fight than we’ve ever had.”
Alonso finished 11th in the second practice session, a place ahead of his teammate Jenson Button. All seems well with his fitness so far. Also showing signs of improvements were the Williams who didn’t have a repeat of the wheel failures in the first session. Massa finished 14th four places behind Bottas. Not such good news for Magnussen in his Renault with the team still trying to sort his car out and he didn’t take part in the second practice.
For once all isn’t going in the way of defending champion Lewis Hamilton. He arrives in China 17 points behind teammate Nico Rosberg and that gap could widen even further this weekend.
One thing is for certain on Sunday and that is Lewis Hamilton not getting pole position. Indeed, he won’t even be in the first five after being given a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change after sustaining damage in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Rules state a driver has to use the same gearbox for six consecutive races hence his penalty. Mercedes didn’t want to force a retirement in Bahrain and know that the fact Shanghai boasts the longest straight of all the races that Hamilton will have a great chance of overtaking the cars in front of him.
On Sky Sports News Hamilton described the penalty as a “kick in the goolies” but will he have the balls to get past at least five other cars on Sunday to win the Chinese Grand Prix. He’ll certainly need a better start than he has in the first two races of the season. It’s a challenge he’s relishing saying, “for me a challenge is an opportunity to rise, so I’m really excited about the opportunity from where I’m going to start.” He accepts his penalty will make the weekend easier for Rosberg but he’s sure to give him a battle.
At least his starting position won’t be determined by the qualifying procedure used in the first two races of the 2016 season. Finally, common sense was achieved and the format used last year will be used in China. At one stage it looked as if a new system where drivers would see their two fastest laps added together to determine their starting position might be used. Instead we’re back to two knock-out sessions and then a shoot-out between the ten remaining cars. As long as that means actually having cars on the track in the dying moments of qualifying then that’s fine by me.
I’ll be back on Saturday afternoon with a round-up of how qualifying went and a preview of the big race, see you all then and enjoy watching your racing.