McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes veteran Michael Schumacher made the best of tricky conditions to top the opening practice sessions for the Chinese Grand Prix.
Although Hamilton ran quickest in the morning, it was the wily Schumacher who stole the day’s fastest lap of the Shanghai International Circuit.
Schumacher ended FP1 in 3rd spot after completing only 14 laps, but stretched his legs somewhat during a qualifying stint in the afternoon session.
It has not been unusual to see the Mercedes squad excel in low fuel runs; however long distance stints have seen pace fall away from the German manufacturer.
During the dual ninety-minute sessions, Mercedes team focussed on a deeply technical programme, applying numerous set-up changes to the F1 W03. Much of the schedule was dedicated to race simulations and tyre comparisons.
Schumacher’s Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, briefly topped the opening session in the dying moments, while he swapped quickest laps with Hamilton. Rosberg would end the sessions 2nd (FP1) and 5th (FP2).
Hamilton headed an opening session dominated by changeable conditions, as the Woking squad brought a new rear wing package and an updated floor to Shanghai.
The cool conditions nullified any potential for optimum tyre comparisons; however Hamilton still registered some relatively competitive times. The 2008 World Champion was unable to assume the top spot in FP2, finishing instead 2nd, just under two-tenths slower than Schumacher.
It was a more difficult day for Jenson Button, who struggled to “switch his tyres on” in the low temperatures, leaving the king of Melbourne stranded down in 8th (FP1) and 6th (FP2).
Alterations to the front wheel cambers and brake discs appeared not to cure Button’s understeer problems – something that appeared to quietly frustrate the former champion.
There were split strategies in the Red Bull camp, as Mark Webber continued with the latest version exhaust and Sebastien Vettel contended with a variation of the exhaust from the Barcelona test.
The afternoon saw Red Bull change Vettel’s front suspension units, while Webber endured temporary KERS issues.
At Ferrari, both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa tested new aerodynamic components in FP1, before moving to tyre evaluations in the afternoon.
While Ferrari’s disappointing lack of performance and balance has been noted on numerous occasions, Massa’s tyre struggles would continue through the opening day, as his soft compound Pirelli’s fell away early in each of his stints.
Lotus also brought developments to Shanghai (new barge boards, diffuser, floor and front wing), although their day was destabilised by severe understeer due to the cool temperatures, while Raikkonen suffered with malfunctioning DRS.
A spin for Grosjean in the second session interrupted what had been a rather busy day for the Frenchman. He would register 39 laps over the two sessions, ending 17th (FP1) and 15th (FP2) respectively.
Force India concentrated on tyre evaluations and long runs in the afternoon, although their morning was cut short by the circuit conditions. Indeed Jules Bianchi – replacing Paul di Resta during FP1 – managed only eight laps, severely limiting the Frenchman’s learning potential.
The team brought some small aerodynamic updates to Shanghai that received full evaluation in the afternoon.
Set-up work was the order of the day at Sauber, as the Swiss squad push for better overall balance on the circuit’s slippery surface. While Kamui Kobayashi enjoyed a trouble-free day, Sergio Perez suffered from braking problems and locking front wheels – the latter of wheel caused the entire front section of his C31 to rattle violently down the back straight.
Daniel Ricciardo reported that he was happier with his Toro Rosso than he was in Malaysia three weeks ago, despite an on going power steering problem. The Australian split the set-up programme with teammate Jean-Eric Vergne throughout the afternoon, who claimed to be “…not entirely happy with the feeling (…) from the car.”
Evaluations of the aerodynamic and mechanical workings of the FW34 were the order of the day at Williams, with long runs and tyre comparisons mixed into the programme for good measure.
It was especially productive for reserve driver Valtteri Bottas, who completed his first Formula 1 session in damp condition, when he took over Bruno Senna’s car in the morning.
For Senna, it proved to be another minor frustration, on a track that he admitted to be largely unfamiliar with. Indeed, this was the second of fifteen practice sessions that Senna must give to Bottas throughout 2012, potentially destabilising his progress further.
Caterham brought a new floor for the Chinese Grand Prix; however the lack of optimum conditions somewhat hindered knowledge gained from the new component.
As with many other teams, the green-and-yellow squad ran tyre comparison programmes, as they strive to learn more about the new Pirelli’s. Caterham also brought in a reserve driver for FP1, as Giedo van der Garde sat in for Vitaly Petrov in what was his first competition session in Formula 1.
It was a day of some disappointment for Marussia. Following a bout of solid running, lead driver Timo Glock hit the barrier at the end of turn one sideways, when his nosebox mysteriously dislodged itself on the approach to the corner.
Thankfully, Glock appeared to be unhurt, despite banging his hand hard in the cockpit and while there was no overly serious damage to the MR01, his session was clearly over early.
Beyond that, the day was a positive one for the Marussia team, who brought some promising front wing and floor updates, as well as new brake drums to Shanghai.
HRT enjoyed a significant improvement, thanks to an updated front wing that the Spanish team surmised gave them a bonus of up to seven-tenths; however drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan still found deficiencies with the braking of the F112 machine.
This session was easily HRT’s most co-ordinated of the season yet, with the team moving swiftly into race set-up programmes with the rest of the field come the latter third of FP2.
The opening session created a number of issues. Having rained overnight, the circuit was not wet enough for full wet tyres, yet still too damp to make the move for dries. Some eventually took to the track on the Pirelli intermediates, although this did not bring a huge increase in running.
Practice was also dominated by thick smog that lingered amongst the tops of the Shanghai grandstands and rooftops.
The circuit itself was also heavily littered, albeit with discarded Pirelli rubber, as cars shed layers of tyre in the cooler temperatures, creating a definite single racing line before the end of day.
2012 Chinese Grand Prix (Round 3, Free Practice 1) Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m37.106 7 2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.116s + 1.010 14 3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.316s + 1.210 14 4. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.584s + 1.478 13 5. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.911s + 1.805 12 6. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m38.977s + 1.871 15 7. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m39.198s + 2.092 12 8. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m39.199s + 2.093 6 9. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m39.748s + 2.642 16 10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m39.768s + 2.662 14 11. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m40.056s + 2.950 14 12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m40.153s + 3.047 14 13. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m40.298s + 3.192 8 14. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m40.328s + 3.222 13 15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m40.540s + 3.434 12 16. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m41.071s + 3.965 14 17. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m41.204s + 4.098 14 18. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m42.330s + 5.224 14 19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m42.521s + 5.415 11 20. Jules Bianchi Force India-Mercedes 1m44.118s + 7.012 8 21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m44.227s + 7.121 10 22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m44.500s + 7.394 15 23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m47.204s + 10.098 12 24. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m50.465s + 13.359 11 ^Notes compiled from live updates and team releases.
2012 Chinese Grand Prix (Round 3, Free Practice 2) Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m35.973 32 2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.145s + 0.172 29 3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.160s + 0.187 26 4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.433s + 0.460 23 5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m36.617s + 0.644 30 6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.711s + 0.738 27 7. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.956s + 0.983 28 8. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m36.966s + 0.993 30 9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m37.191s + 1.218 30 10. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.316s + 1.343 32 11. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.417s + 1.444 22 12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.616s + 1.643 33 13. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m37.836s + 1.863 30 14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.930s + 1.957 31 15. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m37.972s + 1.999 25 16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m38.176s + 2.203 34 17. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.293s + 2.320 30 18. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m38.783s + 2.810 37 19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m38.990s + 3.017 36 20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m39.346s + 3.373 19 21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.651s + 3.678 15 22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m40.343s + 4.370 24 23. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m40.753s + 4.780 30 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m41.125s + 5.162 26 ^Notes compiled from live updates and team releases.