Chinese Grand Prix Practice: Mercedes lead but Ferrari are close

Lewis Hamilton led the field at an action packed Friday ahead of this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. The championship leader set the pace in both sessions and looks favourite to extend his championship lead come Sunday.

Hamilton looked in control throughout the day, team-mate Nico Rosberg his closest challenger in the morning, but he could only manage second best to his team-mate on a circuit where Hamilton has tasted victory on three occasions. In the afternoon it was up to Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen to take the fight to the Silver Arrows who finished second place in the second session of the day, some 0.443s behind Hamilton.

The Mercedes and Ferrari fight over one lap looks to be heading in the favour of Hamilton. Over a longer distance and on high fuel the times are closer; if Ferrari can replicate the form that they had shown on Friday then we could be in for a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix. Mercedes know that this weekend they really have a race on their hands.

Red Bull seem to have the third fastest car this weekend and, whilst they do seem to be fast, reliability issues could plague their progress. Daniel Ricciardo set the third fastest time, the Australian, who has endured a difficult start to the new season, had a best time of 1:38.311. Whilst Ricciardo was happy with his days work, the same cannot be said for team-mate Daniil Kvyat as he ended the day with brake failure. With smoke coming from his left rear brake he was instructed to drive back slowly, however he could only manage to make it to Turn 14.

Whilst it was Hamilton and Raikkonen leading the way, the other Mercedes and Ferrari cars of Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel finished the day in fourth and fifth. Vettel pipped his countryman by a slender 0.060s. The Ferrari man recovered after a harmless spin in the opening session at the exit of Turn Three.

There was a moment of lunacy when a spectator ran across the circuit in the afternoon. A fan had made his way from the main grandstand on the start finish straight. The spectator continued to run across the circuit whilst the session was ongoing and jumped over the pitwall and into the pitlane, thankfully no one was hurt and the spectator was quickly apprehended.

After the success of last season, 2015 hasn’t been as kind to Williams. Valtteri Bottas could only manage seventh place today after his run on the option tyre. Whilst Bottas’ day went smoothly, the same cannot be said for team-mate Felipe Massa who crashed in the afternoon. An issue with the DRS caused the rear to become unstable and sent the Brazilian into the wall resulting in him losing valuable track time. To make matters worse Massa was running with the only version of the new front wing that the team were hoping to race.

Sauber have reasons to be cheerful after a good day for the team. Felipe Nasr ended his day in eight place comfortably ahead of Marcus Ericsson in the sister car. The team have undoubtedly made a huge step from last season which saw Sauber fail to score a point. 

Both Lotus and McLaren had a good days running and seemed to have taken a step in the right direction. Lotus rounded out the top ten with Romain Grosjean ahead of Pastor Maldonado who finished eleventh. In between the Lotus pair came Jenson Button in a strong looking McLaren who finished the day half a second faster than Fernando Alonso. For the first time, McLaren seem to have a fighting chance of making their way into Q2 come qualifying. The car has improved a great deal since the opening weekend in Malaysia, the team did fear that the cooler China temperatures could mask the leap that they have made in the cars performance, however thus far this weekend that does not seem to be the case.

This weekend there seems to be a gap of up to two seconds between the option and prime tyre, this could spring a surprise come qualifying and could cause the top teams to run the option tyre in Q1 to make sure of the place into the second phase of qualifying.

It looks as if Mercedes have pole position in the bag with Hamilton seemingly having the edge over the rest of the field once again. Below is a run down of all the times from the second practice session ahead of the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix.

1Lewis HamiltonMercedes 1:37.219
2Kimi RaikkonenFerrari + 0.443s
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Renault + 1.092s
4Sebastian VettelFerrari + 1.120s
5Nico Rosberg Mercedes + 1.180s
6Daniil KvyatRed Bull Renault + 1.518s
7Valtteri BottasWilliams Mercedes + 1.631s
8Felipe NasrSauber Ferrari + 1.813s
9Romain GrosjeanLotus Mercedes + 1.923s
10Jenson ButtonMcLaren Honda + 2.056s
11Pastor MaldonadoLotus Mercedes + 2.225s
12Fernando AlonsoMcLaren Honda + 2.524s
13Marcus EricssonSauber Ferrari + 2.532s 
14Max VerstappenSTR Renault + 2.675s
15Carlos SainzSTR Renault + 2.752s
16Nico HulkenbergForce India Mercedes + 2.932
17Felipe MassaWilliams Mercedes + 3.204
18Sergio PerezForce India Mercedes + 3.649
19Roberto MerhiMarussia Ferrari + 5.754
20Will StevensMarussia Ferrari + 7.345