As in Malaysia, Lewis Hamilton is not underestimating the potential threat posed by Mercedes’ red rivals.
“It was quite close between us and Ferrari,” said the Friday pace-setter. “They look just as fast as they were last time out and Nico [Rosberg] was quick as well, so we definitely have a race on.”
Although Mercedes aren’t in any immediate danger in qualifying – Hamilton had a solid four tenths of a second in hand over Kimi Raikkonen – the SF-15Ts continue to show promise over a race stint, particularly when using the soft tyre.
Pirelli estimated the soft tyre was worth around 1.7 seconds compared to the medium, while some drivers found two seconds or more. Some appeared to have difficulty adjusting to the huge swing in performance.
Shortly after switching from mediums to soft Nico Hulkenberg was told he needed to increase his tyre temperature. He responded saying it seemed to him as though he had “plenty of grip”, but race engineer Brad Joyce felt his driver had formed that impression because he was “judging against the medium”, and there was actually more performance to be found.
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Longest stint comparison – second practice
As in Malaysia, the potential of the softer tyre over a race stint will shape the contest between the two teams. Can Ferrari eke enough life out of the soft tyre to use it more often in the race and take the fight to Mercedes?
Remeber that in Melbourne Sebastian Vettel was able to keep the soft tyre going so long he was able to jump ahead of Felipe Massa by staying out on his old tyres for three more laps.
What Mercedes believe the soft tyre is capable of was spelled out in a radio message to Rosberg during the second practice session. “We expect the [soft] tyre will do eight timed before it grains on the front, and we expect at least a second a lap quicker than the [medium] was. May need to manage the rears early on for overtaking.”
Last year’s race saw little variation in tyre strategy: a first stint on softs followed by two on mediums was the way to go for most teams. But in the second half of the afternoon practice session today the top teams checked out what both tyres were capable of, keen not to miss anything.
For their longest stints Hamilton and Vettel used the soft tyres while their opposite numbers at Mercedes and Ferrari used the mediums. Running true to form, Vettel looked capable of taking the soft tyre a few laps longer than Hamilton could. There wasn’t as much to choose between the two cars on the medium tyre.
Hamilton said his car felt “way better than the last race” in terms of balance. “I feel like I’ve got some improvements to make and I think we’ve got the pace to stay ahead,” he added.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull also looked good on its brief soft tyre stint, but as he didn’t run as long as Vettel or Hamilton it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions. However he did say the team had made another improvement with the drive-ability of their Renault engine.
This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint:
|Carlos Sainz Jnr||103.927||104.302||104.595||104.385||104.07||104.421||104.264||104.293||104.475||104.193||104.548|
Complete practice times
Jenson Button’s appearance in tenth place raised hopes McLaren could make it beyond Q1 and even all the way to Q3. But he felt the car’s performance had been flattered by the problems experienced by others.
“We seem to have been able to extract the maximum out of our car today,” he said, “whereas perhaps some of the other teams haven’t”. Among those are Toro Rosso, as both their drivers had to abandon their initial runs on the soft tyres when Felipe Massa’s crash brought out the red flag.
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault||1’41.029||1’38.311||45|
|6||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull-Renault||1’41.097||1’38.737||34|
|14||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso-Renault||1’41.575||1’39.894||60|
|15||Carlos Sainz Jnr||Toro Rosso-Renault||1’41.112||1’39.971||51|
|16||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1’42.184||1’40.151||47|
|18||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1’42.141||1’40.868||46|
2015 Chinese Grand Prix
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