“Very quick” Ferrari keeping pressure on Mercedes

2015 Chinese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Shanghai is looking increasingly like one of Lewis Hamilton’s strongest venues. Today he took his fifth pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix, adding to the record he already held, and tomorrow he will bid for a record-extending fourth victory.

In every session this weekend Hamilton’s best time has not been bettered by anyone else using the same tyres. Q1 was the only session which did not end with the number 44 car on top, which was because Mercedes was the only team which did not have to use the soft tyres to secure a place in Q2.

All their rivals did so. Sebastian Vettel, who took third on the grid, was half a second slower than the cut-off time in Q1 on medium tyres, so opting for a set of softs was clearly the prudent thing to do instead of trying to find more time on mediums.

However their race pace is Hamilton’s real concern. “The Ferraris are very quick once again here,” he acknowledged, and the Italian team made a key sacrifice in qualifying to strengthen their hand in the race. Ferrari ensured they will have at least one set of unused soft tyres for the race reusing an old set at the beginning of Q3.

Mercedes also has a set of fresh soft tyres available for each of its drivers, but will they actually use them? As we saw in Friday practice Mercedes cannot make the soft compound last as long as Ferrari. Nico Rosberg was sceptical about their usefulness in the race, but Ferrari may use them to try to keep the silver cars in range.

If they can do that, it may only be a matter of time before Mercedes have to reconsider their policy of treating both their drivers as equally as they can, and resort to varying their strategies to cover off any threat from Ferrari.

Raikkonen and Ricciardo target Williams pair

However Kimi Raikkonen was unhappy with his result in Q3. Following his run on used soft tyres he reported he was having trouble with the rear of the car at the beginning of the lap. He chose not to adjust his front wing, but his subsequent single run on new soft tyres left him more than half a second off Vettel.

Raikkonen will therefore line up behind the two Williams drivers, who he beat to fourth in Malaysia despite losing time at the start. The Ferrari’s superior race pace should help him move ahead of the pair during the race even though their straight-line speed is slightly better.

The progress of Daniel Ricciardo in the slowly-improving Red Bull will be another point of interest, as he believes he can stay in touch with the Williams drivers. “Driveability has improved and our long-run pace is better,” he said, “I think we should be closer to Williams tomorrow and I am optimistic we can have a good fight for top five”.

However Red Bull’s brakes remain an area of concern for the team: Daniil Kvyat suffered further problems during practice and both cars had brake trouble in Malaysia.

All the drivers in the top ten will start on the soft tyres they used in Q2. Last year there was very little variation in tyre strategy – just one car used the harder tyres at the start – with the life of the soft tyres being a clear limiting factor.

Shanghai’s uniquely long first corner is preceded by a fairly short run from the grid, so it’s not uncommon to see drivers making contact at the start. The subsequent run to the braking zone at turn six, and the huge straight which leads to the turn 14 hairpin tend to make for a lively first lap. How the contest for victory unfolds from that point on will be shaped by whether Ferrari are able to use the tyres everyone was keen to avoid running last year.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’38.2851’36.423 (-1.862)1’35.782 (-0.641)
2Nico RosbergMercedes1’38.4961’36.747 (-1.749)1’35.824 (-0.923)
3Sebastian VettelFerrari1’37.5021’36.957 (-0.545)1’36.687 (-0.270)
4Felipe MassaWilliams1’38.4331’37.357 (-1.076)1’36.954 (-0.403)
5Valtteri BottasWilliams1’38.0141’37.763 (-0.251)1’37.143 (-0.620)
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’37.7901’37.109 (-0.681)1’37.232 (+0.123)
7Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’38.5341’37.939 (-0.595)1’37.540 (-0.399)
8Romain GrosjeanLotus1’38.2091’38.063 (-0.146)1’37.905 (-0.158)
9Felipe NasrSauber1’38.5211’38.017 (-0.504)1’38.067 (+0.050)
10Marcus EricssonSauber1’38.9411’38.127 (-0.814)1’38.158 (+0.031)
11Pastor MaldonadoLotus1’38.5631’38.134 (-0.429)
12Daniil KvyatRed Bull1’39.0511’38.209 (-0.842)
13Max VerstappenToro Rosso1’38.3871’38.393 (+0.006)
14Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso1’38.6221’38.538 (-0.084)
15Sergio PerezForce India1’38.9031’39.290 (+0.387)
16Nico HulkenbergForce India1’39.216
17Jenson ButtonMcLaren1’39.276
18Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’39.280
19Will StevensManor1’42.091
20Roberto MerhiManor1’42.842

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton25.113 (1)28.698 (1)41.971 (2)
Nico Rosberg25.141 (2)28.738 (2)41.931 (1)
Sebastian Vettel25.216 (3)29.201 (5)42.270 (3)
Felipe Massa25.281 (4)29.192 (4)42.481 (5)
Valtteri Bottas25.396 (5)29.233 (6)42.514 (6)
Kimi Raikkonen25.416 (6)29.152 (3)42.460 (4)
Daniel Ricciardo25.591 (8)29.275 (7)42.674 (7)
Romain Grosjean25.529 (7)29.475 (11)42.723 (8)
Felipe Nasr25.689 (10)29.500 (12)42.828 (11)
Marcus Ericsson25.706 (11)29.522 (14)42.758 (10)
Pastor Maldonado25.875 (15)29.504 (13)42.742 (9)
Daniil Kvyat25.710 (12)29.415 (8)43.084 (14)
Max Verstappen25.638 (9)29.451 (9)43.082 (13)
Carlos Sainz Jnr25.819 (13)29.453 (10)43.061 (12)
Sergio Perez25.889 (16)29.819 (17)43.195 (16)
Nico Hulkenberg25.869 (14)29.988 (18)43.108 (15)
Jenson Button26.109 (18)29.707 (15)43.460 (18)
Fernando Alonso26.070 (17)29.770 (16)43.440 (17)
Will Stevens26.936 (19)30.868 (19)44.287 (19)
Roberto Merhi26.974 (20)31.130 (20)44.738 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes334.6 (207.9)
2Pastor MaldonadoLotusMercedes332.3 (206.5)-2.3
3Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes332.1 (206.4)-2.5
4Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari331.7 (206.1)-2.9
5Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari331.6 (206.0)-3.0
6Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes331.4 (205.9)-3.2
7Felipe NasrSauberFerrari330.7 (205.5)-3.9
8Valtteri BottasWilliamsMercedes330.7 (205.5)-3.9
9Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari330.6 (205.4)-4.0
10Romain GrosjeanLotusMercedes330.3 (205.2)-4.3
11Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes327.9 (203.7)-6.7
12Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes326.5 (202.9)-8.1
13Max VerstappenToro RossoRenault324.3 (201.5)-10.3
14Daniil KvyatRed BullRenault322.9 (200.6)-11.7
15Daniel RicciardoRed BullRenault321.1 (199.5)-13.5
16Will StevensManorFerrari319.6 (198.6)-15.0
17Carlos Sainz JnrToro RossoRenault319.5 (198.5)-15.1
18Fernando AlonsoMcLarenHonda318.3 (197.8)-16.3
19Roberto MerhiManorFerrari317.7 (197.4)-16.9
20Jenson ButtonMcLarenHonda316.7 (196.8)-17.9

Over to you

Can Ferrari take the fight to Mercedes again? Will Rosberg finally take the fight to Hamilton?

Share your views on the Chinese Grand Prix in the comments.

2015 Chinese Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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51 comments on ““Very quick” Ferrari keeping pressure on Mercedes”

  1. I’m pretty sure Kimi will get ahead of the Williams pair be it on track or via strategy. I doubt Ricciardo can.

    1. But with his qualifying position, he’ll lose another race to Vettel this weekend.

      1. I think it may be oversimplifying it a bit. In a sport where fractions of seconds matter, a slight change in the set-up of a car may not suit the driver’s style and affect his performances. I think that is what happened to Vettel and Raikkonen last year. But it looks like the Ferrari set-up suits Vettel’s driving style, particularly its tyre-saving performances. For the same reason. I believe that Button would have been very good in a Ferrari.

  2. 1. Hamilton
    2. Vettel
    3. Rosberg
    4. Raikkonen
    5. Ricciardo

    1. I have the same prediction 😄

      1. @mjf1fan, @mashiat, Similar but Bottas 5th,though I made it before having seen anything of FP3

      2. @bosyber I did the same thing, I didn’t end up waking up in time to change my predicion

  3. According to AMuS, Lewis crew messed up his tyre pressure so that’s why he couldn’t improve his time he set earlier.

    1. Interesting…

      If AMUS is right, I wonder how’s the state of Nico’s confidence after knowing that he couldn’t beat his team mate even with the tyre pressure wrong.

      1. Lewis had great first run time of Q3. Nico didn’t beat it with 2 tries. Lewis’ second run didn’t change anything in the end.

      2. ..Im pretty sure Nico knows by now that he cant beat Lewis in a straight fight…he obviously wont admit that right now…but he will in years to come.

  4. Looking at the speed trap figures, it’s significant that Mercedes is at the high end. This to me means that they’ve shed some downforce, a lot. That is a compromise for the race be it for tire life or for overtaking, this tell a story that Merc has a lot in hand.

    1. Less downforce will give them more straight line speed but it will increase tire wear in the corners, especially the faster ones. This strategic choice could backfire as it will play into Ferrari’s hands by possibly magnifying the Ferrari tire-life advantage further. It will be an interesting race.

      1. actually higher down force allows you to load your tires more in the corner. It depends on the construction of the tire really. Less down force means you go slower in the corners. More load means more heat in the tires (sidewall flex).

      2. Michael Brown
        11th April 2015, 23:00

        Actually, higher downforce leads to more tire wear, because the result is higher cornering speeds thus higher load. Low downforce limits cornering speed, with the trade off being higher top speed.

        1. Downforce was invented for higher corner speed and not going airborne. Otherwise they wouldn’t need it. There us mechanical and aero grip. I think that you are speaking about different things.

          1. Aero grip doesn’t exist. the “down force” gives the car more weight and thus the tires will have more traction. Down force was never invented either.

  5. First of all: Credit where credit is due, Pirelli has nailed it, the tyres are just perfect. It’s massively exiting to see that even a car with less inherent pace has a chance to be top 3 or even win. Degradation is just about right, and most of all, drop-off is predictable and manageable.

    Secondly: Renault are a mess. Both Redbull and Toro Rosso beaten by ALL 2015-spec Merc and Ferrari powered cars in the speed trap. Sure, speed trap numbers aren’t everything, but it’s telling that both teams are so far down, only able to beat Honda and the 2014-spec Ferrari engine back in the Manor cars.

    Expecting Ferrari to do two stints on the softs and one on the medium tomorrow, with most other teams going for one on the softs and two on the mediums. It’s really their only change to get any better than P3 I think. Let’s hope for an exiting race. Personally really want to see Vettel giving Rosberg a run for his money. I think Hamilton will realistically be out of reach.

    1. and a two stop is out of the question? if they can nurse a little better than the rest the tyres, dropping a little pace but saving the 20+ seconds on every pit stop could be a good strategy

    2. Pirelli nailed it? No way. Ferrari did.
      Just look at the other teams. They are ages slower than Mercs and have similar degradation.

      If it weren’t for this Ferrari trick, it would be 2014 all over again. Worse, with Rosberg being demolished.

      1. Edgar, you clearly fail to see my point. Pirelli have been heavily criticized over the past couple of years for quickly degrading, delamenating or exploding tires. We even saw some ridiculous 4-stop races, and seasons entirely dominated by tire management. In 2014 Pirelli finally managed to introduce some stability, but arguably they went too far and too conservative. So far this year they have been spot on. Obviously there are going to be differences between teams, but so far the trend seems to be 2-stop races. If I recall correctly that is exactly what everyone here on F1fanatic voted to be optimum a couple of years ago. Pirelli simply deserve some credit.

        1. @me4me I don’t agree a four stop race is inherently bad. We’ve had some great races including four stoppers in 2010 for example.

          1. @xtwl, Yeah, i see your point. 4-stop race isn’t bad by definition, although it’s a bit crazy. Btw no Pirelli’s in 2010 ;)

          2. @me4me I know, but a 4-stop could be really cool if you can make it work. I wish more teams dared to divert from the optimum strategy to try something different.

        2. +1 spot on @me4me

  6. That is very kind of Lewis but I think he knows he has a comfortable margin for the race over my Reds. Plus, the Mercedes have not used any soft in Q1, which may give them a little advantage tomorrow, if well managed. Mercedes are more distant than Malaysia. 1/10th in quali vs 9/10th…
    I think he should stop making these statements. Not all of us buy that…

    1. @nuvolari71 You’d say the same in Malaysia.

      1. not sure I understand you but I was more confident after quali in Malaysia than today. When you have a full second of margin, you shouldn’t say “oh my god, I am so scared, they are so quick”. It doesn’t sound nice. I hope I am wrong…

        1. @nuvolari71 Fair enough, it’s just that Ferrari haven’t magically lost their race pace so they’ve still got a bit of it – and with it a small(er than in Malaysia but still existant) chance of beating Team Brackley.

          1. There you go:) I wasn’t wrong, unfortunately and Lewis was sand bagging, as expected. Lewis was able to manage the tires and to have a good pace at the same time. I reckon the win of Ferrari in Malaysia created way too much noise. Nico should wake up sooner or later…

  7. I don’t think even Ferrari would have thought they had a chance to challenge any of the Mercedes in dry condition over a 1-lap run. Sure Vettel is almost a second down on Hamilton, and there’s a high chance that we are going to see another boring Mercedes-dominant race, there’s still hope for a good one.

    As we’ve seen in practice, Ferrari is particularly strong at tyre managing. What that means is that Ferrari can push a little bit more when needed against the Mercedes, which would give them a chance, or at least give us a good race. They will also have a wider variety of strategies available to them, and they can improvise to non-expected problems in the race better (yellow flag, safety cars, red flag, weather changes,…).

    If I were a Ferrari strategist, I would know that there is no way a Ferrari can beat a Mercedes in a dry quali, and I would try to set up my car to maximize long-run pace consistency rather than 1-lap-speed. As we’ve seen from Hamilton last year, he usually get beaten by Rosberg in quali but trashed Rosberg in the race.

    Of course a wise bet would be on the Mercedes, but I really hope for a good race tomorrow!

  8. I predict a challenge for second place after the first pitstop. Ferrari went out on a used set of softs in Q3 deliberately saving a brand new set for the race. Expect Vettel to push like hell at the end of the first stint to close down Rosberg and then run the brand new softs in the second stint. He may get past. Mercedes will probably run the mediums after the first pitstop as Rosberg stated after Qualy that the softs were not a good tyre for them. Should be interesting!

    1. Everybody gets a free set of softs to use in Q3 which cant be used for the race so if ferrari went out on used set of softs more fool them

      1. they went out on used softs, then went out on the ones for Q3 only. So they’re left with 1 fresh set of softs. So more fool you.

      2. They did first run on used and second on that “Q3-only” tyres.

  9. I was really surprised to see Ferrari using only one set of new softs in Q3, it’s something you don’t usually see.
    They are clearly targeting two stints on soft tyres tomorrow. I don’t know, I think they are a bit too far from Mercedes to gain a significant advantage with this strategy, but we’ll see.

    Hopefully we’ll get a battle between the two Mercedes. Rosberg so far has been a bit weak compared to Lewis, similar to the start of last season. But the difference is that Rosberg had an advantage in terms of points in 2014, now he doesn’t even have that.

    1. Merc have the same amount of new softs at thier disposal so its going to take an epic fail on mercs part for ferrari to win. Heres hoping for a tight battle though

      1. I want to see if it will be so easy.
        It’s ALL about how longer Ferrari can go. I bet they will try -again- to go for one stop less than Mercedes. Otherwise they simply can’t compete.

        The others already can’t.

  10. Of course, there is always the possibility that twitchy Rosberg will try to heat Hamilton to the first corner and……..BANG! as Murray Walker would have said.

    1. Nah, Rosberg is nervous, but he wouldn’t made so such mistake

      1. Perhaps, but one gets the feeling that this “so near and yet so far” situation is definitely making him edgy. Rosberg is not a bad starter and if he manages to get alongside Hamilton, neither would be too willing to give way into the first corner.

        1. I dunno, based on form Ham knows he can re-pass Rosberg in the 2nd/3rd stint. I’m not saying he’d leave the door open but I don’t think he’d do a Maldonado.

      2. It would be insane for Rosberg touch Hamilton again. But Malaysia’s impeding then claiming Lewis was on a slow lap was insane.

        1. I am not saying that either of them will do anything deliberately. But both will try to reach the first corner first and as we have seen before, there is always a chance of a shunt.

          1. It’s the level of risk @loup-garou. If you think back to T1 Canada last year Rosberg was all set to take Lewis out completely if Lewis hadn’t backed out of it. There’s a sliding scale of how hard they try to avoid contact. And Rosberg’s actions haven’t always been that rational. Think of the huge charm offensive after Spa and then he undoes it all with Sepang Q3, crashes Lewis’ press conference because of Twitter and takes umbrage when journos laugh at him. Monaco was insane enough, having all his fellow drivers regarding him as a cheat when the whole idea of doing a sport is status and respect. I don’t take anything for granted. But hopefully Lewis will make a good start.

  11. I think fox lost the transmission rights to the new channel “Canal F1 Latinoamerica”

  12. What could help Mercedes is Massa gaining P3 on the start as his starts are always great.

    Williams isn’t on par with Ferrari but can pull some resistance.

    What will tell the history of this one is how longer Ferrari can go with its tyres. Mercedes did 13 laps on softs on friday. If they can push some 16 laps they can think on doing 2 stops.

    1. I recall reading on BBC F1 that after 11 laps on the softs the Mercs pace began to fall off appreciably and after 14 laps the Ferrari was the faster car. But of course, that does not take into account the relative fuel loads.

      I suspect that Ferrari will try to run Vettel on a longer first stint on the soft tyres, followed by a short but as-fast-as-possible second stint, coming in for the final soft options earlier than the Mercs. That way, the Ferrari may gain some ground on the Mercs if the latter are still on mediums before coming in for their second stops. That may just enable Vettel to leapfrog one of the Mercs (both is highly unlikely but probably not impossible) and manage to stay ahead for rest of the race based on the better tyre saving. Also, with light fuel loads and under racing conditions, I believe the speed differential between the two is much less.

      1. @loup-garou
        Not quite, I think Ferrari will do Soft-Soft-Medium whereas Mercedes will either have to three-stop (Soft-Soft-Soft-Medium) or use the slower tyre twice (Soft-Medium-Medium). My bet is on them three-stopping as the soft is so much faster and they have a spare new soft tyre. They will lose some time (anybody know the pit delta?) for the extra stop but should be much faster throughout the race than Ferrari, so it should still be enough for Mercedes to win.

        1. Well Ferrari tried that and ended up playing into Mercedes’ hands. IMO, Ferrari should never have tried the ‘undercutting’ trick – not on this circuit.

  13. If the sector times are to be believed, Max Verstappen’s mistake indeed cost him Q3, as he said in a post-race interview. Given that he was on course for about P9, this puts him slightly out of position for the race. Will be interesting to see if he can make it into the points again tomorrow.

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