Following the heartbreak of Bahrain for Charles Leclerc when he had a deserved victory snatched away from him due to a power unit issue, all eyes were on Leclerc in Shanghai to see if he could continue to set the pace off the back of his fastest lap two weeks ago. His teammate Sebastian Vettel is keen to show the new boy who the frontrunner of the team is and would also hope Free Practice 1 would show his own pace. However, Mercedes (off the back of a fortunate 1-2 in Bahrain) would be confident of setting their own times for others to follow as Lewis Hamilton is very confident on this asphalt.
Free Practice 1 for the 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix started with near empty grandstands around the track. This was somewhat of a surprise as the event is sold out although seeing how the SAIC Shanghai International Circuit is an hour away by metro – you would have to be up very early for the 10am start time.
Over the last few decades, Free Practice sessions tend to be affected by several factors: weather, team’s trying to second guess each other or technical issues. Shanghai itself experienced Free Practice disruptions two years ago when FP1 was severely affected by the medical helicopter not being able to land in Shanghai city centre due to poor visibility. For those who did arrive at the track on time, they were hopeful this would not be the case for this historical event…the organisers probably hoped the same.
1 minute prior to the start of Free Practice 1, Valtteri Bottas was shown on the big screen casually enjoying a beverage out the back of the Mercedes garage – obviously not going to be the first out on track. That honour went to Kevin Magnussen in the Haas. However, he was swiftly followed by Sebastian Vettel, Romain Grosjean, Charles Leclerc and a host of other cars. Mercedes may have been staying in but the majority of the grid was filled with cars aplenty…so much so that Daniel Ricciardo had to break sharply due to a slow moving Pierre Gasly in front of him on the penultimate corner of the track. Ricciardo won at Shanghai in 2018 but right now would probably be happy enough with any points form this weekend.
With the track temperature on the 32 °After 8 minutes of action Magnussen headed the times (albeit installation laps) and then all the cars were in the pits as the circuit commentator announced ‘Welcome to the lull’ with regard to the empty track. Pirelli have brought their mid-range to Shanghai, the C2, C3 and C4 compounds with the drivers choosing soft tyres the most in their selection.
The first car to break the lull just over 10 minutes later was the ROKiT Williams Racing Team at the hands of Robert Kubica with his teammate George Russell close behind. Then we had our first time of note: P1 for Hamilton with a 1:35.572.
Soon enough though Sebastian Vettel came round the final corner in the Shanghai sun and the ravishing red of the Pracing Horse shot to the top with a time of – 1:35.395…Leclerc was in fourth. In an instant though the Mercedes pair set the pace at the top again…with cars so close the prospect of an exciting battle on Sunday looks all the more likely.
After another lull, the next moment of note came from Daniel Ricciardo setting the fastest middle sector time and with it climbing to third – huge progress for Renault and the much loved Australian.
With 30 minutes remaining Hamilton's W10 was navigating the track on soft tyres while Ferrari chose the medium. A wise choice indeed as first Leclerc went top before Vettel set an unbeatable time of the session with a 1:33.911 – on a medium tyre! Hamilton was able to dislodge Leclerc and claim second but that was the best he could achieve.
After competing with several cities, Shanghai won the opportunity to host the 1000th Grand Prix. This decision was not taken lightly by the organisers and is a testament to 15 years of hard work by all those associated with this event. As for the SAIC Shanghai International Circuit itself, it is an ultra-modern venue with space aplenty on track for overtaking which bodes well as the 2019 regulations certainly made the on track battles in Bahrain much closer last time out.
Next up after lunch FP2…can Vettel keep setting the pace?
|1||S Vettel Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||1:33.911||12|
|2||L Hamilton Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||0.207s||11|
|3||C Leclerc Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||0.256s||14|
|4||V Bottas Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||0.742s||11|
|5||D Ricciardo Daniel Ricciardo||Renault||1.328s||15|
|6||M Verstappen Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1.466s||8|
|7||D Kvyat Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1.536s||14|
|8||L Stroll Lance Stroll||Racing Point||1.555s||14|
|9||P Gasly Pierre Gasly||Red Bull||1.578s||13|
|10||R Grosjean Romain Grosjean||Haas||1.596s||15|
|11||L Norris Lando Norris||McLaren||1.720s||15|
|12||A Albon Alex Albon||Toro Rosso||1.784s||16|
|13||C Sainz Carlos Sainz||McLaren||1.845s||14|
|14||N Hulkenberg Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||1.891s||13|
|15||K Magnussen Kevin Magnussen||Haas||1.954s||14|
|16||S Perez Sergio Perez||Racing Point||2.096s||13|
|17||K Raikkonen Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo Racing||2.120s||14|
|18||R Kubica Robert Kubica||Williams||2.936s||18|
|19||G Russell George Russell||Williams||3.708s||18|
|20||A Giovinazzi Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing||2|