Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Shanghai International Circuit, 2016

Ferrari and Mercedes close on long-run pace

2016 Chinese Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Is Ferrari really a threat to Mercedes in China? Or was Toto Wolff’s claim the red cars are “pushing us very hard” just a bit of positive PR for F1?

Red put one over silver on Friday in China. In fact they put two over: The SF16-Hs appeared at the top of the times sheets followed by the two W07s.

Of course the normal caveats apply. We don’t know what fuel loads they were using and Ferrari set their times after Mercedes in a session where the quality of the track surface was clearly improving, thus flattering their performance.

Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Shanghai International Circuit, 2016
It wasn’t a straightforward day for Hamilton
Even so, few Fridays since the beginning of 2014 have ended with both Mercedes out-paced by two rival cars from the same team after a day of dry running. They know Ferrari are coming for them.

And the long-run pace gave further signs it could be a close race. The top two teams favoured the soft and medium tyres for their longest runs: Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton used the latter, Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg the former (see their lap times in the graph below).

Ferrari did their runs at the beginning of the session and started on new tyres. Mercedes waited until the end which meant their tyres had already been used: Hamilton’s were six laps old, Rosberg’s three. Taking that into account, there’s little to choose between their long-run pace, with Mercedes slightly stronger at the end of the stint.

In ordinary circumstances the super-soft would probably not be considered worth running for anything other than the first stint once the Q3 teams have qualified on it. However there are two factors which could change this.

The first is Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty. This gives Mercedes an incentive to consider an alternative strategy, perhaps by starting him on the soft tyre. In order to do this he would have to get through Q2 on softs instead of super-softs. As Q3 now features ten cars instead of eight, his chances of doing are better than they were at the last race. Hamilton was 1.4s quicker than tenth place in second practice.

However this is likely to be rendered irrelevant by the second factor: tomorrow’s weather forecast. Since yesterday the predictions for rain have grown more certain and point to heavier rainfall throughout the day including the qualifying session. Drivers who qualify on wet weather tyres will have a free choice of tyre to start the race on, with the added benefit of having plenty of extra sets of super-softs.

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This could therefore open up the possibility of drivers using a different compound for each stint in a two-stop race: new super-softs for the opening stint followed by softs and mediums.

A wet qualifying session could also be just what Ferrari need to tip the balance in their favour. Remember how Vettel came within a few hundredths of beating Hamilton to pole in the wet qualifying sessions at Sepang for the last two years running? With Hamilton compromised, this could be a chance for him to take his fourth Shanghai pole position.

Hamilton looked out of sorts initially on Friday, spinning twice in the first session and going off in the second as well. Drivers have been complaining about the high tyre pressures mandated by Ferrari but the wind has been catching them out too.

Kevin Magnussen, Renault, Shanghai International Circuit, 2016
Magnussen had a joyless day
“I didn’t feel too comfortable with the car this morning,” Hamilton admitted, ” but the team made some changes over lunch and it was much better in the second session.”

“The weather has been surprisingly warm but with a lot of wind, which made it quite difficult out there through the high-speed corners.” However the wind is expected to drop on Sunday.

However the most frustrated driver at Shanghai must have been Kevin Magnussen, who was unable to set a single lap time after a problem with his car in first practice caused a puncture.

“Kevin didn’t get a lot of running because of a rear suspension failure in FP1,” explained Renault technical director Nick Cheter. “We know the cause of the failure and will have modified components for tomorrow but of course it is disappointing for Kevin that he didn’t get more track time.”

Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’39.1551’36.89646
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’38.6651’37.00545
3Nico RosbergMercedes1’38.0371’37.13349
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’38.1831’37.32949
5Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’39.0611’38.14344
6Max VerstappenToro Rosso-Ferrari1’40.2321’38.26841
7Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes1’40.1691’38.52744
8Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso-Ferrari1’39.6761’38.54244
9Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’40.3471’38.56946
10Valtteri BottasWilliams-Mercedes1’40.8281’38.72344
11Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Honda1’40.5381’38.72842
12Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Honda1’39.9741’38.82839
13Daniil KvyatRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’39.6251’39.17845
14Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes1’39.21438
15Jolyon PalmerRenault1’41.8161’39.77448
16Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’41.3581’39.89031
17Pascal WehrleinManor-Mercedes1’42.9081’39.94150
18Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’41.3931’39.97953
19Rio HaryantoManor-Mercedes1’41.6141’40.55053
20Felipe NasrSauber-Ferrari1’42.9801’41.06640
21Esteban GutierrezHaas-Ferrari1’42.9546
22Kevin MagnussenRenault6

2016 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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18 comments on “Ferrari and Mercedes close on long-run pace”

  1. @keithcollantine
    “Drivers have been complaining about the high tyre pressures mandated by “Ferrari “”

    I hope for a good race.

    1. Where is that, I didn’t read that. There’s a typo on the name of the Renault guy. We’ve been running higher pressures since Monza…

      1. I don’t want to imply the writer of the article was biased, maybe it’s true but I think it’s “Nick Chester”

        1. I would presume a typo that has been corrected @peartree

    2. sunny stivala
      16th April 2016, 6:26

      A long standing internet hamfosu friend of mine from across the pond that goes by the name of roBO1 will tell you that Mercedes were sandbagging both cars so far in China.

  2. High pressures mandated by Pirelli, surely? :)

  3. Ferrari really do have all the power…

  4. And Ricciardo, like always this year, isn’t far behind. He didn’t even had any drop on lap times on the end of his simulation and is very good on making his tyres last longer than others.

    Looks interesting, albeit Mercedes is always stronger on race day than the simulations suggest.

    1. sunny stivala
      16th April 2016, 6:30

      Yes right ok, “Ours”, any of “ours” are always good/better here and there, always.

  5. @keithcollantine – Has there been any indication of how much longer the mediums can be run compared to the soft? There does not seem like a lot to choose between the two (with, as stated, Friday caveats applied). If that is really the case and the stint lengths are close, soft would seem to be more beneficial.

    Also, how much faster is the SS than the S? Might be worth it to run S/M/SS or S/S/SS, or are those not doable? If three stop, S/S/SS/SS or S/M/SS/SS? I’m just really not familiar with how long the stints are going to be this year so I can’t tell if I’m talking crazy or if these strategies are doable.

  6. Good news for McLaren fans. They seem to be “just” 3 seconds down on Mercedes and Ferrari.

    1. How? I read it as 2 seconds. And they’re damn close to Williams and toro rosso

  7. Gosh! That front left seems shredded. Teams will be hoping to baby the tires as much as possible and try to get into Q3. Can’t see more than 5-6 laps before they come in, if that is how the tires are treated after the qualifying run.

  8. Wind an issue? Couldn’t possibly be. After all, Nico was laughed at for that last year.

  9. Sebastian Vettel’s front left tire in the top photo looks like its coming apart at the top, unless it’s an illusion.

    1. You aren’t imagining it. I watched FP2, and right at the end Vettel braked really hard and flat-spotted the tire so bad that
      it did actually come apart.

    2. He did that at the pit entrance when he came in, smoked them real good.

  10. Dunno why Nico and Kimi are not considered as front runners this weekend.

    Especially since their last 2 races suggest they are on form.

    Alarm clock is set, we will see what happens. I fully anticipate epic quali for P1. If it really gets wet, we should see maybe even RBR fight for pole, but if not.. Ferrari is much closer, maybe Vettel can be a few hundrets infront of Lewis this time…

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