Hamilton the man to beat as teams hit the track in Shanghai
Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Apr 2012   |  1:48 pm GMT  |  79 comments

Michael Schumacher topped the time sheets this afternoon in the drier of the two practice sessions, but the indications from the long runs and analysis of lap times is that McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton is the man to beat this weekend. The McLaren driver has confirmed that he will have to move five places back on the grid from where he qualifies, due a forced gearbox change, but in terms of car pace he looked the fastest today.

Hamilton set the fastest time in the damp morning session and then finished second behind Schumacher in the afternoon session, with the Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber also looking consistently fast. They will be hoping to hold Hamilton behind them in the race on Sunday, presuming both are ahead of him on the grid after his penalty.

McLaren have several updates here this weekend, a modified front wing, some changes to the floor and rear wing also. All the drivers were experimenting with the softer Pirelli tyre, looking to see how it will deliver the optimum lap time. It seems to be between 6/10ths and 8/10ths of a second per lap faster than the medium, but it also seems to be tough to warm up in the chilly conditions experienced today. Some drivers found it gave the fastest time on the second lap, others did a fast lap, then a slow one and then found the time on the third lap on the tyre. There was also quite a bit of tyre scrubbing going on, indicating that teams may find a scrubbed set of tyres better than a new set.

Judging from the difference between the fastest lap times and the long run times, the gap was smaller for McLaren than Mercedes – it looked like Hamilton’s car was probably a little heavier than Schumacher’s when the fast lap times was set and the extra power of the DRS on the Mercedes also accounts for some of the difference as well, as they didn’t use the DRS on the race simulation runs near the end of the session.

The McLaren has the edge on long run pace, as Hamilton – the only two time winner of this race – acknowledged, “It’s the race I’m focusing on a little bit more than qualifying compared to the other races and we are improving consistency and the way we look after the tyres,” he said.

“The car is looking very good. We have a few improvements to make to the balance but hopefully we will be there or thereabouts.”

Having come through yesterday’s protest unscathed, Mercedes look quite confident this weekend and once again Schumacher was the man on form. He looks like a contender for the front row and maybe even pole this weekend, given Hamilton’s penalty, especially with Jenson Button struggling to find the right set up in the second McLaren. He found it hard to deal with the understeer which several drivers encountered with the cool track temperatures.

Red Bull experimented today with two different exhaust settings; Vettel ran the older specification that was used for most of the winter testing, with the inboard exhausts, while Webber used the version which has been used at the first two races, with the exhausts set wider in the rear bodywork. There was little to choose between them, indicating that the decision is as much about driver feel and confidence as anything else.

Despite a suite of small aerodynamic upgrades, the Ferrari looks to be in a bit of trouble here; it seems to be struggling with getting the tyres to work and also its straight line speeds are down compared with the others. Once again Massa is struggling more than Alonso, on a track where Massa had one of his most competitive outings last season. Still looking for his first point of the season, the Brazilian has work to do to find it here this weekend. He said on Thursday that he has spent a lot of time in Maranello preparing this race in great detail, no wonder he looked very disappointed after practice today. “I’ve started (the season) in a horrible way,” he said on Thursday. “I want to go back to being a man who is happy when he drives.”

Meanwhile Ferrari’s reserve driver, Jules Bianchi, had his first of a dozen Friday morning outings for Force India this season. It was a rather frustrating session due to the damp conditions and with the team not wanting to take any risks, it meant that he managed only 8 laps.

Timo Glock was going well in the updated Marussia in the afternoon, when he suffered an odd accident when the front wing came detached as he braked from 195mph to 135 mph for Turn 1. He ended up in the barriers, the only major incident of the afternoon.

Many drivers suffered front wheel lock ups under heavy braking for Turn 14, quite a few of them flat spotted a tyre as a result and savage vibrations on Sergio Perez’ Sauber showed the risks of doing that in qualifying or the race.

CHINESE GRAND PRIX, Shanghai, Free Practice
1. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m35.973 32
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m36.145s + 0.172 29
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m36.160s + 0.187 26
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m36.433s + 0.460 23
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m36.617s + 0.644 30
6. Jenson Button McLaren 1m36.711s + 0.738 27
7. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m36.956s + 0.983 28
8. Paul di Resta Force India 1m36.966s + 0.993 30
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m37.191s + 1.218 30
10. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.316s + 1.343 32
11. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m37.417s + 1.444 22
12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m37.616s + 1.643 33
13. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m37.836s + 1.863 30
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m37.930s + 1.957 31
15. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m37.972s + 1.999 25
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m38.176s + 2.203 34
17. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.293s + 2.320 30
18. Bruno Senna Williams 1m38.783s + 2.810 37
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m38.990s + 3.017 36
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m39.346s + 3.373 19
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m39.651s + 3.678 15
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m40.343s + 4.370 24
23. Charles Pic Marussia 1m40.753s + 4.780 30
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m41.125s + 5.162 26

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Where can I get the photo in high resolution that you’ve featured as the headline photo? It’s amazing!


Ok James just one question regarding merc. Do they just appear to have gone a bit forward in their tyre mamagement or did tbey really did so. Alsoits nice to see Shumi in the zone and pls era in which Shumi is contesting F1 is irrelevant to the era of Fangio and co, the real F1 actually started not that long ago. They used to smoke while piting for tyres and it was Shumi who changed the perspective of every driver in F1 including Senna regarding fitness level I mean just look at him after races, you cant see drop of sweat while same cant be said for others half hus age. I get more sweat just unloading shoping bags from the car so hate him or not he is fitest F1 driver and thus big part in being able to still be at the top despite his age.


James I guess this is an appropriate time to bring it up. It’s been something that’s bothering me for a while and somebody (I don’t remember who) finally brought it up on Sky’s coverage last race weekend.

I think all these driver penalties for gearboxs and engine changes really take away from the sport.

I think it would be much fairer instead of these grid penalties, constructors were docked 5 points for gearboxes that don’t last more than 4 races. Same with engine changes. 8 free changes for the season, then after that 10 constructors points lost for each change. Could also bring about some interesting inter team politics towards the end of a season if a team is fighting in a tight battle for both the driver’s *and* constructor’s championships! 🙂


I agree it’s hard to make sense of, especially when you are allowed one “joker” gearbox change etc


lewis will win from 6th or 7th he has been show boating



Surly Lewis will “claim” pole if he is fastest in quali as it would be the fastest time even despite the penalty as surly it is based on who is fastest regardless of tech details?.

Is there any way of finding out for sure?seems an added insult to injury, is one thing To land a gearbox pen but to be shafted from the record books too seems unjust



I’ve just had a look at the sporting regulations and I believe you are correct. Qualifying and determining grid position are two separate procedures;

33.3 At the end of qualifying practice the times achieved by each driver will be officially published.


36.2 c) Once the grid has been established in accordance with a) and b) above, grid position penalties will be applied to the drivers in question in the order the offences were committed. If more than one driver incurs a penalty under Article 28.4(a) or Article 28.6(a) preference will be given to the driver whose team first informed the technical delegate that an engine or gearbox change will be carried out.


Reckon this weekend LH need,s some of lady luck. He is definately the man to beat. Looks like Maclaren have managed to bodge his race before it,s started. I reckon if Maclaren get it wrong tommorow LH will sign a contract with Mercedes.


With what people say about Hamilton’s tyre management skills, combined with a team who haven’t managed to understand how their car interacts with its tyres for the last three years; sounds like a recipe for disaster!


Mclaren should find more performance in S3 as they will change the 7th gear ratio that was too short during FP2.


I was under the impression you can’t change gear ratios after Friday sessions


Your impression is very good;

28.6 d) At each Event seals may be broken once, under supervision and at any time prior to the second day of practice, for the sole purpose of changing gear ratios and dog rings (excluding final drives or reduction gears). Competitors must inform the FIA technical delegate which ratios they intend to fit no later than two hours after the end of P2. However, one additional change of ratios and dog rings will be permitted if a gearbox change is necessary on the first day of practice before the end of P2.

And from 28.6 a) Any replacement gearbox must be fitted with the same gear ratios that were declared under d) below and will only be required to complete the remainder of the Event in question. Any change to the gear ratios declared under d) below will incur a further five grid place penalty. In either case a new five race sequence may start at the following Event.


Schumacher still bloody fast at 44 years of age


If he wasn’t getting a 5 place grid penalty Lewis would be the man to beat but given that and the problems he has had with getting his tires to last he will be lucky to make it onto the podium.


The McClaren seems to be the car of 2012 . Yet Alonso is the driver of the year so far,Ferrari can never be ruled out.

He is similar to Senna as he gets the best out of the car. I think that Alonso has some way to go to beat the rear man though http://playwithflair.com/2012/04/04/feature-a-moving-tribute-to-ayrton-senna/


I meant to say the great man not rear man, my mind was somewhere else as I just read this moving post about Senna


It sounds like poor Massa has been listening to Rubens, being advised to try to enjoy the racing…


If McLaren is a fair bit better than the opposition, I can imagine JB will surely start on one of the first 3 slots on the grid, with LH 6th or 7th. If the race unfolds without rain or safety cars . It will likely be a JB win. LH will need a great start if he wants to have a chance at the win.

I would very much enjoy to see MS on pole. I can”t see him holding on to 1st, or 2nd & 3rd for that matter till the flag. Still what a thrill it would be to see him on pole.

Lotus seems farther away in pace than they were the previous couple of races. While I hope that is not the case, we shall see tomorrow and on Sunday if that is so.

FA will need something of a miracle to repeat his previous result, but I still think he will be scoring good points. FM…?

The Red Bull team will score a podium. The odds should be for them to bring both cars in the top 3, I would think.

MS pole






LH (post-penalty)








All 6 WCs in the first 6 places…..with SG 7th.

Of course this is all based on what I want rather than expertise. Luckily I am not the betting type. Marc


Who is SB?


Hamilton still favourite to win the race for me. He’s my favourite for pole with the two Mercs behind him. In the race the two Mercs will hold everybody up bringing Lewis back into the race. With the right strategy he has as good a chance as anyone!


Can’t wait for quali and race!

Looks like we have a very exciting race on our hands!
I really like Hamilton’s attitude this season, he is definitely very focused (even despite [mod] influence of his so called girlfriend).
If he can keep out of trouble on lap 1 in the race, then he definitely will be in the hunt.


Well, Webber finished 3rd from 18th on the grid last year


I too like Lewis’ attitude this season. Notice how he talks about scoring points and podiums instead of must win, must win. I’m sure he still feels the same win at all costs attitude inside but he comes across much more mature like he did when he started out. If he can keep his chin up and smile a bit I reckon the press will give him a break. Having said that ‘Go Webber” 😉


But what about the excitement factor?? I thought LH fans likes him because he is the most exciting driver in F1 😉


40+ year old man, once again, leading the pack.


On a Friday, which has been essentially a testing session for a few years.

They always say, don’t read too much into Friday times.

Let’s see how he does tomorrow


You know it!


He is showing how long someone can compete at the top, isn’t he?

Not long ago no one would have thought anyone driving in F1 past 40, yet he’s still going strong at 43 and might keep going if he wants to.

Before any smart…mouth tells me (imagine Jeremy Clarkson’s anorak voice) “ooohh Fangio was even older when he won his last WDC hahahahaarr” this is a different era. More G-forces and many more professional drivers, groomed for racing from very young age.

This is really a big feat to be on top of your game and fighting people half your age without embarrasing yourself.


Mansell too, he was, I think, 39 when he won the title, and maybe 41 when he won in Adelaide in ’94. Andretti and Fittipaldi were winning well into their 40s in the US. Plus, Michael is a freak of nature! Maybe he’ll win a few before the end of the year, and they’ll have a run at the championship next year? I’d LOVE to see him win again.


Mansell was pretty much gifted that win at Adelaide 94 though, having been well off the pace of his team mate and Schumacher until they collided.


He is a freak of nature. He is fitter than pretty much everyone on the planet!!!

Seriously though, if he was in the Merc or the Red Bull last year he would have won races, (Canada most of all springs to mind) and it seems this Merc is even better suited to his needs. If Merc sorts out their tyre issues watch out for him being a major spoiler figure in the championship!


Oh and if you don’t know JC’s anorak voice, here it is… enjoy!



Not too surprised to see Lewis quickest, Jenson is the news here. Equal fastest car with Lewis and 7 tenths off his team mate. I expect they’ll get it sorted for Qually and we’ll see LH and JB at the front with one of the mercs, then the other Merc and the Red Bulls. Race pace is slightly different, so maybe we’ll see Mercedes drop back behind Red Bull, but McLarens still fastest.


Yup, Jenson moaning about balance…again. He’s a bit of a broken record (especially when he’s quick in FP 1, 2 and 3 and then messes up qually so trots out the changed balance line).


During Tv commentary, mention was made of Ferrari having a big update in Spain, but the real progress will only be seen in Canada. Something that was mentioned has been Ferraris pattern the last couple of seasons.

Is this because Spain’s updates will only bring the car up to where they should have been for the start of the season? Thereby updates from Canada onwards will be performance related?


Interesting though with all the rumours of the “Ferrauber”, especially considering they have already tried and failed with exotic exausts at the first test, and now that Red Bull appear to be back tracking on their version of the Sauber exhausts. Looks like only Mclaren have a working system. It’s Hamilton’s title!


Yeah, Jenson will just let him have it!!!


Ferrari made a monumental error in trying to design a car around Alonzo, no wonder why Massa is all over the place. I think that decision will backfire soon or later. I’ll even go as far as to say ferrari should forget this year and focus on 2013 car, yeah I know.


Are you serious?

Ferrari and every F1 team design their cars to win championships. I can’t imagine that Alonso has asked for a difficult car because he knows it would impact on Massa.

If you know your history, Ferrari in 1996 had a dog of a car that only Schumi could win with. As the car got better, Irvine was able to access it’s potential until in the early 2000’s Schumi and Barrichello dominated the sport. 9 1-2’s in 2002 alone.

The truth is that the more difficult a car is, the greater the difference between “Greats” and their team-mates.

If Ferrari get their car sorted out, Massa will appear more competitive, but over the course of a season, Alonso will beat him.

You saw this effect with Lewis and Heikki at Mclaren in 2008 an 2009.

Regarding forgetting this year and moving on to 2013, well, the more articles I’ve read the more certain I’m believing that Ferrari is behind the others technologically.

In 2006, they were state of the art, and had unlimited testing with Brawn, Byrne and Schumacher running the team.

What seems to have happened is Costa carried on with these tools in 2007 and 2008 but with testing restrictions and not enough investment in the simulation dept they have fallen behind. Hence their downward performance curve during 2010-2012.

Fry has come from Mclaren and is having to re-structure everything to get back to the same level as the other teams, but it will take time.

Personally, if i was employing Alonso at huge expense, I would be directing everything in his direction as well. But then I’m an unbiased Ferrari fan, not a Ferrari hater!



I’m hearing rumors that if Hamilton uses his old gearbox from FP3 onwards he will not get a penalty. Apparently FP3 is recognized as when a race weekend really starts. Is this true?


Regardless, there is no point in risking a retirement. Also, this track is offers the best overtaking chances because of the long straight, thus maximising his chances of making up the lost places. Bahrain, Barcelona and Monaco are not good overtaking tracks. Thus it would be logical to change the gearbox and cop the penalty this race rather than the next ones.


probably not unfortunatly.

Matthew Cheshire

It’s going to be button and vettel fighting out this one. Webber and Schumacher for third. Hamilton will get tied up between Alonso and Massa, and probably ending in a mess when they cross paths with pitstops. Rosberg sixth.

And someone will throw a cucumber at Vettel if gets to the podium.


massa will struggle to get into final qualifing, alonso will be lucky to get 8th


¿Massa? If Felipe fights for 5th Fernando wins the race…

Matthew Cheshire

Um, no. Alonso fifth and Massa race walking with the HRTs after his Hamilton induced bingle.


Great predictions! 😉


Measures exhaust air flow. I think that’s what I heard at 3am.


James, if Hamilton qualifies on pole but then moved back to 6th. Does Hamilton still get the pole position on his records or does it go to the drive that inherits that position?


Naah I think it will remain on his records of having achieved pole in china 2012.


The one who inherits it, I believe. But he still gets to do the photo and the TV unilateral press conference after quali


I think pole would belong to Lewis, though he wont be allowed to start from there. The penalty changes where he starts the race, not who got pole!


It’s a ridiculous rule to deprive the driver of the position in the records at least. And doubly punished having to the PR stuff after the race. Also totally hypocritical. Why should he have to sell Formula One’s image to the public as ‘pole position winner as seen on your TV screen’ when in fact that position will be taken away?


Yeah on paper it appears like Lewis will be the man to beat on Sunday but in reality we have see many times (at least this season) that-that does not play out according to plan i.e. Lewis’ race pace vanishes.

Also according to the record books, Lewis has never been on pole three races in a row and worse still, Hammy has never finished higher than 4th at a track he won the previous year.

So yeah, it doesn’t look good for our Lewis, I suspect he will get spun on the first lap by some flipping cucumber on the first lap come race day.

Anyway from today’s times and Vettel’s statements it looks like Red Bull have got their mojo back for they have figured out why they were slow in qualifying and rectified it.

Regards Mercedes, Rosberg’s statements aren’t confidence building for he said it may take the team a couple of races before they figure out their tyre temperatures issues.

So my pick is for Rosberg to pole it then get swallowed up by the pack.

As for the heroes of the Malaysian Grand Prix i.e. Perez & Alonso, it appears China won’t be kind to them as Sauber were experiencing brake problems whereas Ferrari’s Pat Fry says the characteristics of the China track won’t suit their car unlike Malaysia.


“Also according to the record books, Lewis has never been on pole three races in a row and worse still, Hammy has never finished higher than 4th at a track he won the previous year.”

That’s gold Goferet! With stats like that you must be an actuary.

Thank you for you contribution to this blog, its so entertaining.


“and worse still” …

LOL… I see the Despair Squid is still doing the rounds… 😉

Whatever will a Lewis win to to this strange statistical fact machine you have ?

It rather looks like his season doesn’t it ?


I’d sooner pick Schumi for pole than Britney. Rosberg might be the faster driver on one lap but it seems this car is more on the edge than the last 2 mercs. That is Schumi’s territory. Rosberg will definitly get the fastest lap if he gets it together, but I sense some kind of niggling doubt when it really matters and he messes up because of it.

Saying that he messes up under braking. Maybe he feels he needs to do the maximum on everything including braking to beat Schumi? Perhaps the brakes aren’t to his liking? Don’t know… but judging from the past 2 races, I’ll still expect Schumi to beat Rosey come Saturday.


How about calling him Nico or Rosberg. Trying to decipher all your nicknames wasting my time and I like to think this website generally has mature and thoughtful comments.

I know your not alone in trying to have a little dig at drivers by not using their correct names.

I for one have read nearly every article and comment on this site since its inception and have seen a general degrading of intelligence over recent times.

I would urge people not to reply to fans bagging drivers without cause.

Keep this site the best on the web…it’s our job.


Ok, Brittney is Webber’s nickname for Rosberg because when they were teammates he used to fluff his hair about like Ms Spears. It’s just the way Webber is. I call him Rosey sometimes because it’s an easier version of “Brittney”. It was a little aussie jest, nothing more than Webber’s.

I have said nothing to offend, praised Rosberg’s one lap speed (he got his first pole today despite what I said!) and it seems you picked me out in your outrage over some general feeling that some people don’t like other drivers. I also mentioned Rosberg’s name if it wasn’t clear enough of whom I was talking about.

P.S. Congratulations Rosberg.


Thanks for that. It’s a nightmare for mod to have to eat up time changing details, with so many comments to get through.


What was that contraption (looked like a strip of anti-pigeon spikes) hanging on the back of Lewis’ car during the installation lap at the beginning of P1?


Most likely and airflow sensor. They’d be using it to guage what change the new floor they’ve got on this weekend made.


It was a set of air pressure sensors. Apparently they are capable of giving a 3D readout of the air pressure at the back of the car. This data can then be fed back into the CFD and simulation systems to make them more accurate.



How does the Mercede’s pace in race trim compare to Malaysia FP1.

Are there any improvements?


What do you think about the Kubica rally video James?


Here is the video on youtube:


Here is a link to an article about it:


Please note the following quote:

A video showing the car in action reportedly isn’t of Kubica, but sources close to the driver confirm he did complete a few runs in the same car, but not at the same level.

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