As in Malaysia two weeks ago, McLaren headed the times on the first day of practice for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Jenson Button was fastest in the morning with team mate Lewis Hamilton on top in the afternoon, with Nico Rosberg second, Button third and Michael Schumacher fourth, making it four Mercedes engines in the top four places.
We didn’t see what the McLaren was capable of in qualifying in Malaysia because rain intervened. The forecast for Shanghai tomorrow is sunny with only a 10% chance of rain, so we will see whether the team has managed to close the gap on Red Bull and Ferrari in qualifying pace. It will also be interesting to see what difference, if any, the new ruling on adjustable suspension has on the field and if Mercedes have got themselves a little closer.
The Red Bull cars of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were fifth and sixth and cautiously remain the team to beat. However Vettel has said this weekend that he fears the McLarens here and the team needs to get one of the F duct rear wings as soon as possible to take advantage of the straight line speed advantage it brings.
“It is something you have to have, no matter if you have a midfield car or probably one of the best cars. It is worth quite a bit, and is quite a big advantage in terms of lap time. It probably depends on the circuit, but it is up to five tenths, ” he said.
But as McLaren’s chassis was designed around this clever idea, wth an inlet duct on top of the monocoque, they have the system optimised, whereas the others are having to place the air inlet duct in a less perfect place.
However Ferrari have brought one to Shanghai this weekend, although it has yet to activate it, Mercedes tried one, while Sauber already had one on the car. Williams has one in the pipeline.
Through the speed trap Kobayashi and Hamilton were clocked at 312km/h on Shanghai’s long main straight, with Alonso at 311 km/h.
The morning session was overshadowed by a spectacular accident for Sebastien Buemi in the Toro Rosso; an upright failed and both front wheels came of the car in the braking zone at the end of the long straight. He was not able to get out in the second session.
There was also concern for Fernando Alonso who stopped after just six laps with flames coming from the engine of his Ferrari. The team has yet to release details of what happened, but said before the weekend that it had no engine worries, despite the failure on Alonso’s car in Malaysia. Alonso said after practice that he has “zero worries” on engines, despite the fact that he now has just six units – one of which has done qualifying and the race in Bahrain and will used for the rest of this weekend – to cover the remaining 16 races (including the next two days).
The two ultra long right-handed corners could prove quite influential in qualifying and the race with the six cars from the new teams being some way off the pace. Alonso lost 1.7 secs in final sector on a hot lap, mainly because he was held up by the Hispania car of Bruno Senna in the long Turn 13. The cars are in that corner a long time and if a much slower car is in your way at a critical point it shows how that could affect the lap time for the front runners quite significantly.
Chinese Grand Prix: Practice 2 times
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:35.217 26
2. Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.465 + 0.248 22
3. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:35.593 + 0.376 26
4. Schumacher Mercedes 1:35.602 + 0.385 28
5. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:35.791 + 0.574 30
6. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:35.995 + 0.778 29
7. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:36.254 + 1.037 31
8. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.377 + 1.160 43
9. Kubica Renault 1:36.389 + 1.172 29
10. Alonso Ferrari 1:36.604 + 1.387 33
11. Massa Ferrari 1:36.944 + 1.727 36
12. Petrov Renault 1:36.986 + 1.769 27
13. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.421 + 2.204 32
14. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.431 + 2.214 33
15. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:37.657 + 2.440 30
16. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:37.804 + 2.587 31
17. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:37.867 + 2.650 29
18. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:39.624 + 4.407 35
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:39.947 + 4.730 30
20. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:40.233 + 5.016 27
21. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:41.008 + 5.791 32
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:41.107 + 5.890 28
23. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:41.345 + 6.128 32
24. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari