Chinese Grand Prix | Action at last in FP3 with Vettel fastest

Sebastian Vettel fastest in final practice at the Chinese Grand Prix.

With clouds still lingering but the sun shining, action could finally get underway in Shanghai. Where Sebastian Vettel set not only the fastest time of the busy hour session but also the fastest lap in Shanghai for over 10 years. Leaving a massive margin back to Mercedes as the teams set about sourcing yesterday’s lost data.

With no more than a handful of laps completed across Friday practice, the start of FP3 was a busy one. Seeing 19 of the 20 drivers hit the track in the opening minutes and Romain Grosjean posting the first time of the day.

Yesterday’s fastest, Max Verstappen – set in FP1 prior to the abandonment of all running due to weather conditions –  was also out early on and lapping faster than the Haas driver. But the Dutchman was not taking top honours yet, as Daniel Ricciardo lowered the benchmark in the sister Red Bull.

One man not lowering the benchmark but lowering the weight of his believed to be overweight car was Valtteri Bottas. For the Mercedes W08 EQ Power+ is believed to be slightly overweight and weight loss is one of Mercedes highest priority tasks of the early-season development process. But losing the T-Wing was not part of the plan. Yet that did not stop it from snapping off during FP3. One of the, if not the most, likely ways in which the T-Wing could be banned by the FIA.

Like yesterday’s minimal running, drivers were still spinning on Saturday morning despite the rain not being present again. With first Jolyon Palmer suffering a sudden snap in his Renault at Turn 11, and soon after Marcus Ericsson and Sergio Perez.

As laps began to wrack up, and Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed an extended period at the top, soft tyres began to be taken off in favour of the red-marked supersoft rubber. Which on, Sebastian Vettel could go fastest on by two-seconds to last year’s pole time and set the fastest lap around the Shanghai International Circuit since the end of the V10 era in 2005.

Worryingly for McLaren, Honda and Alonso, when the Spaniard carried out his first qualifying simulation lap he found himself just shy of three seconds off the Ferrari’s pace. Stoffel Vandoorne, too, finished no better as he came home three-tenths down on his team-mate.

A big margin also split the Mercedes from the flying Ferrari. As neither Silver Arrows driver could get within a competitive region to the Prancing Horse with their opening flying lap times. Suggesting work is there to be done for the Brackley-based outfit if they are to take their first win of the season this weekend.

Bottas China FP1 - Pirelli

Valtteri Bottas exiting the pits during FP1 at the Chinese Grand Prix. Photo credit: Pirelli Sport.

A string of personal bests and a new fastest final sector overall for Valtteri Bottas later moved him into third and ahead of Hamilton. But the Silver Arrows still remained down on the Ferrari by 3.7 and 5.4 tenths of a second after Hamilton failed to nail the hairpin penultimate corner and lost time on his flyer.

In terms of laps completed, McLaren was also amongst the lowest totals. With Fernando Alonso only completing 17 laps, the least of any driver in the session. While the team’s pace, matching their expected struggles here in China, suggests a double Q1 exit is more than likely.

Pos Driver Chassis Laps Time Gap
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 20 1’33.336
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 19 1’33.389 0.053
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 26 1’33.707 0.371
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 25 1’33.879 0.543
5 Felipe Massa Williams 23 1’34.773 1.437
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull 20 1’34.946 1.61
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 23 1’35.092 1.756
8 Lance Stroll Williams 24 1’35.182 1.846
9 Jolyon Palmer Renault 21 1’35.192 1.856
10 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 24 1’35.223 1.887
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 22 1’35.449 2.113
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas 22 1’35.521 2.185
13 Sergio Perez Force India 20 1’35.626 2.29
14 Romain Grosjean Haas 22 1’35.680 2.344
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 23 1’35.804 2.468
16 Esteban Ocon Force India 24 1’35.811 2.475
17 Fernando Alonso McLaren 17 1’35.912 2.576
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 25 1’36.063 2.727
19 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 21 1’36.221 2.885
20 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber 24 1’36.705 3.369