2015 Chinese Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

As track temperatures lingered around 30 degrees, most people expected to see Mercedes reassert their dominance over their rivals this weekend and FP1 had the hallmarks of an impending whitewash. However, Ferrari seem unaffected by the low surface temperatures, as the SF15-T has once again caused the Brackley squad concerns heading into the rest of the weekend. In terms of short run performance, Mercedes seem comfortable, but both Raikkonen and Vettel have stated their claim to a tilt for victory on Sunday.

A Classic Inbound

It may only be Friday, but FP2’s running has set the stage for a classic come Sunday. With an advantage of a full second between Hamilton and the closest non-Mercedes challenger of Vettel at the close of FP1, the predictions of a return to form seemed to be qualified, and it appeared as though the temperatures were causing Ferrari problems.

However, during the long runs in FP2, Ferrari demonstrated the type of pace which guided them to victory in Malaysia, with Kimi Raikkonen stretching the medium tyre across an 18 lap stint, and showing little signs of degradation. His times were hugely consistent and positively comparable with Nico Rosberg’s equivalent times – a promising sign for the Tifosi.

It is also key to remember that this 18 lap stint, where Kimi continued to lap in the 1:43’s until the chequered flag, was completed on a circuit which has still not totally rubbered in. The Shanghi Internantional Circuit does not host as many events across the year as other venues F1 will visit and as such, the circuit will improve significantly in grip levels over the course of the weekend.

As such, I would expect Ferrari to be able to stretch the medium compound substantially further than 18 laps come Sunday. If they can manage 30 or more circuits from this prime compound, then a one-stop strategy would be possible. It is a possibility which will surely have James Vowles and his team of strategists scratching their heads tonight. Mercedes will need to handle the pressure from Ferrari better than they managed two weeks ago.

Slowly But Surely…

After a winter of trials and tribulations, McLaren finally seem to be making some headway in 2015, as their assent towards the top ten has been quantified today. Jenson Button found himself in the lower echelons of the points paying positions throughout the day, while Fernando Alonso was never far behind.

Most surprisingly, we are witnessing this improvement on a circuit which should theoretically emphasise the power deficit that the team faces, due to the number of significant traction events around the lap. The 1.3 mile straight is surely the least welcome feature of the venue for everyone in white and gray. However, the fruits of McLaren’s labour are beginning to come to fruition.

Their own issues may not quite be of the calibre of the aforementioned McLaren squad, but Red Bull seem to be in much better shape this weekend, as Daniel Ricciardo finished FP2 in P3 on the timesheet. It’s important not to blow this performance out of context – Rosberg’s time was unrepresentative and the Williams duo always opt for a low-key Friday free of glory runs, meaning that P3 could quickly become P6.

However, what proved to be most impressive was Ricciardo’s long run pace. The Aussie managed some impressive times, on an albeit brief stint at the conclusion of the session. The tyre degradation was evident for the rapid drop in times, but at least the team know that the RB11 has the potential to give the two Dani’s an opportunity to take a bundle a points away from Shanghi.

Having changed from the Hipco to the Brembo brake material, plenty of running for both drivers was critical today and the RB11 did not disappoint in the reliability stakes either. Ironically, what did prove problematic was the new brake discs, which were overheating throughout the day. It seems as though the team will need to adjust the ratio of air heading to the discs, with what looks to be around 50% of the flow into the brake ducts, (albeit a crude guesstimate on my part) currently being diverted to the blown front axle. Kvyat may have suffered the dramatic brake fire and subsequent brake failure, but Ricciardo was not free of brake temperature issues either today, judging by the amount of work being done by the team’s leaf-blowers, (to use a technical term).

FP1 Timesheet

1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 1:39.033
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes 0.541
3. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari 1.124
4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari 1.628
5. Felipe Nasr, Sauber 1.979
6. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull 1.996
7. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull 2.064
8. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso 2.079
9. Valtteri Bottas, Williams 2.270
10. Felipe Massa, Williams 2.271
11. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus 2.302
12. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso 2.542
13. Jenson Button, McLaren 2.812
14. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber 2.885
15. Jolyon Palmer, Lotus 2.934
16. Sergio Perez, Force India 3.108
17. Fernando Alonso, McLaren 3.128
18. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India 3.151
19. Will Stevens, Manor 6.346
20. Roberto Merhi, Manor 7.410

FP2 Timesheet

1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 1:37.219
2. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari 0.443
3. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull 1.092
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari 1.120
5. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes 1.180
6. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull 1.518
7. Valtteri Bottas, Williams 1.631
8. Felipe Nasr, Sauber 1.813
9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus 1.923
10. Jenson Button, McLaren 2.056
11. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus 2.225
12. Fernando Alonso, McLaren 2.524
13. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber 2.532
14. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso 2.675
15. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso 2.752
16. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India 2.932
17. Felipe Massa, Williams 3.204
18. Sergio Perez, Force India 3.649
19. Roberto Merhi, Manor 5.754
20. Will Stevens, Manor 7.345

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