Less than a week after the chequered flag fell on the Malaysian Grand Prix Formula One is back in action, with Friday running complete at China’s Shanghai International Circuit.
And would you believe it, Sebastian Vettel topped both of today’s sessions, ending FP1 well clear of his rivals before edging Lewis Hamilton in the afternoon running. It’s little surprise that around 80% of Fantasy Grand Prix players have the lad down as their predicted winner for Sunday – he looks unstoppable.
Vettel paced the first session in utterly dominant fashion. When the 90 minutes were up the German was a full 0.615s faster than team-mate Mark Webber, and over two seconds faster than the closest non-Red Bull car.
That McLaren man Hamilton, the British squad once again proving the fizzy drink boys’ nearest competitors, albeit well adrift of the reigning world champions. Jenson Button ended the session fourth, under a tenth shy of Hamilton, with Malaysian podium finisher Nick Heidfeld fifth in the Renault. The German was among the front-runners despite completing just a handful of laps, his session curtailed at around the hour mark when he damaged his R31 over the kerbs.
Rookies Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado both impressed in the morning run, ending up seventh and eighth respectively. However Pastor managed to end yet another session early, spinning and stalling his car with little over ten minutes to go in FP1. The Venezuelan has now had practice incidents at all three grand prix this season.
Also impressive in FP1 were Heikki Kovalainen, who was 14th fastest – ahead of several midfield teams – and Tonio Liuzzi, who ended the session quicker than Timo Glock and Lotus debutant Luiz Razia. However the Italian would be forced to sit out the vast majority of the second session.
In addition to Razia Force India ran their third driver Nico Hulkenberg in FP1, whilst Toro Rosso gave tracktime to Daniel Ricciardo. They ended the session 13th and 16th respectively in place of Adrian Sutil and Jaime Alguersuari.
Vettel then topped the second session to complete a dominant Friday, this time ending up two tenths rather the two seconds faster than second place Lewis Hamilton.
But Vettel appeared to have speed to spare. He spent much of his on-track time during the session discussing tyre wear with his mechanics and also ran heavy with fuel for much of the afternoon. Overall Vettel’s long-run pace appears to once again trump that of the McLarens.
The British team are now firmly established as Red Bull’s main, or perhaps only challengers, Hamilton ending up just ahead of team-mate Button. Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher ended an encouraging sesison for Mercedes fourth and fifth, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa sixth.
However there was frustration for the Brazilian’s team-mate, Fernando Alonso, who spent a large chunk of the session in the garages and ended up 14th fastest. Nick Heidfeld was also in the wars – again – this time slithering in to the gravel and clipping the barriers. A bit of car park driving got him out of the runoff and back to the pits, with some help from his mechanics, allowing him to return to the track to set the eighth fastest time. Heidfeld finished one place ahead of team-mate Petrov but behind the impressive Adrian Sutil, who ended up seventh. There was no joy for the second Force India of Paul di Resta however, as he was forced to watch from the pitwall due to a mechanical issue on his car.
Both Hispania cars ended up faster than both Virgin Racing machines, despite Tonio Liuzzi completing just three laps to Jerome d’Ambrosio’s 35. A repeat of that in qualifying would probably be greeted like a world championship by the Spanish strugglers.
So can anyone beat Sebastian Vettel to pole position in tomorrow’s qualifying session? Following back-to-back poles and successive wins today’s evidence suggest that it will be a mighty difficult task.