Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel headed the times at the end of the first day of practice for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
The times for all three men were set at the same time of the afternoon on new soft Pirelli tyres. But there was an interesting variation whereby Vettel’s time was set on the third lap of the run, while Hamilton’s and Button’s were on the first.
Button went on to do a longish run on the soft tyres, with laps in the mid 1m 44s, while Hamilton radioed in to say that the tyres were “finished” and he pitted at the end of that lap. Both McLaren drivers said that the car worked better on the hard tyre than the soft.
Vettel’s pace on long runs was strong and consistent. He did a 19 lap run at the start of the afternoon session on the hard tyre with laps mainly in the low 1m44s, working down to high 1m 43s. Team mate Mark Webber, who focussed on race preparation, didn’t do a new tyre performance run. Their combined work indicates that the Red Bull is looking after its tyres well. Webber did a 13 lap run on the soft tyre with times in the low 1m 43s, which no other team was able to match. Massa’s equivalent run in the Ferrari was in the high 1m43 and low 1m44s.
The Mercedes looked more competitive than of late with Nico Rosberg’s 1m 37.9s lap on soft tyres catching the eye, although it’s difficult to know whether he was carrying much less fuel than the Red Bull or the McLarens, which certainly didn’t appear to be running on low fuel.
Fernando Alonso’s afternoon was interrupted by a hydraulic issue which sidelined him for much of the second half of the session. He managed to get a run on soft tyres at the end. Nick Heidfeld lost much of the afternoon session after an off damaged his front wing and he had to be pushed back into the pit lane by mechanics for repairs.
Paul Di Resta missed the second session with a fuel system problem. “I think that I am a little more disadvantaged than I have been at any other Grand Prix now because effectively I have lost three sets of tyres and the important part where you try to do a bit of qualy and race simulation,” said the Scot.
Further back in the field was something to keep an eye on; Virgin had a frustrating afternoon, with an exhaust problem for Glock, but still managed 47 laps between the two cars. D’Ambrosio made a small mistake on his new tyre run, but was still slower than the Hispania cars. Fuel loads unknown, but it could be quite interesting back there in first qualifying tomorrow.
The 107% time from today was 1m 44.526, which was half a second slower than D’Ambrosio’s time.
Additional reporting: Tom Clarkson
Chinese Grand Prix, Free Practice 2
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m37.688s 34 laps
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m37.854s + 0.166 22 laps
3. Jenson Button McLaren 1m37.935s + 0.247 31 laps
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m37.943s + 0.255 34 laps
5. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.105s + 0.417 29 laps
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.507s + 0.819 36
7. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m38.735s + 1.047 35 laps
8. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m38.805s + 1.117 26 laps
9. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m38.859s + 1.171 31 laps
10. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m39.327s + 1.639 33 laps
11. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m39.538s + 1.850 33 laps
12. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m39.667s + 1.979 37 laps
13. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m39.771s + 2.083 18 laps
14. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m39.779s + 2.091 17
15. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m39.828s + 2.140 25 laps
16. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m39.925s + 2.237 32 laps
17. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m39.953s + 2.265 30 laps
18. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m40.476s + 2.788 30 laps
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m41.482s + 3.794 32 laps
20. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m42.902s + 5.214 25 laps
21. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 1m43.850s + 6.162 3 laps
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m44.008s + 6.320 35 laps
23. Timo Glock Virgin 1m44.747s + 7.059 12 laps