The Chinese Grand Prix has been shaping up to be an action-packed sequence in the 2016 F1 championship. Nico Rosberg is on the verge of securing his sixth consecutive win if he can complete the weekend with maximum available points. On the other hand, Shanghai race will provide perfect opportunity for Hamilton to announce his comeback in the fray as he’s the most successful driver at the venue with four victories.
But it was not the ideal to the event for the Mercedes pair. Lewis Hamilton suffered two spins in the first practice session while his Mercedes team-mate and points leader Nico Rosberg encountered an obvious power unit problem. As in the first two races, Ferrari are the German squad’s closest competitors as they seem to have taken one-step further towards challenging Mercedes on outright pace.
Sebastian Vettel was adamant that “lightning wouldn’t strike twice” as he said his team have taken necessary steps to iron out the reliability issues than hampered him from starting Bahrain race and also forcing his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen to retire in the opening contest in Australia. The Maranello-based outfit currently lies 50 points adrift of the Mercedes in the constructors’ table with the crucial points robbed from both drivers in the concluded races.
Vettel finished third fastest in FP1 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and his own Finnish team-mate. Red flag appeared in the session with just 25 minutes in as Williams’ Felipe Massa suffered left-rear tyre issue out of Turn 5 and skidded off the track pouring debris on to the tarmac. He joined the track only to have another left-rear tyre failure. The bizarre session saw Renault’s Kevin Magnussen seeing a similar issue on the back straight – at 1.1 kilometre the longest in the calendar.
After that second red flag period, Pirelli said the issues were down to technical failures. The Brazilian didn’t set a lap time because of the accident while Esteban Gutierrez of Haas just finished two laps in total before enduring electrical problem. In the final eight minutes, Hamilton set pace with a 1:38.183s before Rosberg went past him with a strong middle sector.
In the second session, with forty minutes and running, Raikkonen blitzed a 1:36.896 to remain as the topper until the end. Rosberg could only manage get 0.237s closer to him with Vettel and Hamilton sandwiching him. Whilst underlining the Scuderia’s pace, Sebastian Vettel got within +0.109 s of his team-mate to finish off a strong Friday. Red Bull’s Australian driver Ricciardo was constantly up there as he concluded FP2 in a commendable fifth position but was over a second off Raikkonen.
Haas’ Gutierrez engaged in another issue as his brakes caught fire and were put off in the pit lane, curtailing his run for the day. Meanwhile, Kevin Magnussen and his Renault spent time in the garage for the whole 90 minutes.
Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen completed both sessions in the top ten to round off a brilliant practice day. McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are the only two drivers on the current grid to have finished in every Chinese race since the inauguration in 2004.
The Spanish driver was given permission to contest the race following medical check-ups after the first practice session. His best finish was at FP2 where he came home 11th fastest while the other veteran Jenson Button stood eighth at the end of the first practice session.
With the Force India pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez are up there as well, the qualifying will be as tight as it can get. However, the Shanghai International circuit has varying weather and there’s only 58 percent chance for pole sitter to win the race. With rain expected to spice things up for qualifying and also the race, we are in for another thriller at China as has been the case in the past.