Lewis Hamilton kicked off the Chinese Grand Prix weekend with the fastest lap around the Shanghai International Circuit in FP1, ahead of Nico Rosberg.
It would have been the third FP1 session in a row Nico Rosberg had topped, after claiming P1 in the opening session for both the Australian GP and the Malaysian GP. But today’s opening practice triumph came at the hands of Hamilton, who ended the session 0.541 seconds clear of the German whilst Vettel ended the session in third.
For the first session of the weekend, temperatures were lower than back in Malaysia with a 13 degrees Celsius ambient temperature, along with a 27 degrees track temp. One of the factors that could help Mercedes across the weekend after the high Malaysian temperatures hindered their tyres just under two weeks ago.
Down at Lotus, Romain Grosjean sat out the first practice session as he stepped aside for the reigning GP2 champion and Lotus test & reserve driver. Jolyon Palmer was also making his F1 race weekend debut after securing the test and reserve driver role at the team earlier in the year.
When the green light flicked on to mark the start of the session Roberto Merhi was the first man rolling out onto the Shanghai circuit, closely followed by Sainz.
However for Jenson Button, his installation lap came to a confusing end when the Briton noticed a red light flashing down the back straight. But there was no red flags out on track. Nevertheless, he returned to the garage and continued his session from there.
But as the session got going, it was Nico Rosberg staking his claim to the top spot with an early 1:41:052 for the lead, before improving by six tenths.
Early into the session and F1’s new boy Jolyon Palmer was getting up to speed, but a little too quickly and span the Lotus at turn 9. He managed to continue but as he got going again, Carlos Sainz was going for a spin back at turn 2. Both trying hard to find the limit, but both going a little too far and having to slow right down. As was table topping Rosberg twenty minutes later when the German locked up at turn six and sailed off track moments after getting a fresh set of tyres.
Clearly the lock up did not hold Nico back, as the German once again lowered the P1 time and now broke into the 1:39’s. However Hamilton remained nowhere near the top of the timesheet and sat in last place, after completing just 5 laps in the opening half of the session. But that would not matter when he hit the track once more and instantly rocketed to the top by five tenths of a second.
Across the session, Ferrari remained near the front of the field. But neither Vettel or Raikkonen could get anywhere close to the Mercedes men when it came to crunch time. Instead, Vettel sat in third over one and a half seconds back from first placed Hamilton, and just ahead of Raikkonen going into the final 15 minutes. But go a further 15 minutes back, and Vettel was not even in the top 5.
Instead Red Bull appeared to be in a relatively decent mid-top 10 position. Not exactly close enough to the Ferrari’s to suggest they will challenge them, but close enough to appear to be carrying some improvements.
As for Williams, neither driver set a competitive time going into the final stages and lingered in ninth (Bottas) and 17th (Massa). When Massa completed a late flying lap, he was able to move up to tenth place. But in pushing for a faster lap, Massa locked the rear at the hairpin and span his FW37.
Sauber seemed to have a split FP1 session with Nasr ending the session in 5th place after taking the position with fifteen minutes to go, but his team mate sat outside the top 10.
Like Red Bull, McLaren looked to be showing slight improvements on recent form. Both drivers managed to have spells high up the order but it was Jenson Button as the best McLaren driver in the session after claiming 13th. Alonso ended the session back in 17th with Lotus test and reserve driver, Jolyon Palmer claiming 15th in his F1 race weekend debut.
But FP1 was just another session to be dominated by the Mercedes team. Hamilton managed to top the session by half a second to his team mate, while Rosberg claimed second place by six tenths after Vettel improved on his personal best to reduce the deficit.
- Hamilton (1:39:033 – 21 laps)
- Rosberg +0.541
- Vettel +1.124
- Raikkonen +1.628
- Nasr +1.979
- Ricciardo +1.996
- Kvyat +2.064
- Sainz +2.079
- Bottas +2.270
- Massa +2.271 (17 laps – least)
- Maldonado +2.302
- Verstappen +2.542
- Button +2.812
- Ericsson +2.885
- Palmer +2.934 (25 laps – most)
- Perez +3.108
- Alonso +3.128
- Hulkenberg +3.151
- Stevens +6.346
- Merhi +7.410