Pierre Gasly, Red Bull, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019

Have Red Bull found their “magic password” by fixing set-up mistake?

2019 Chinese Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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While Ferrari and Mercedes were nip-and-tuck at the top of the times sheets on Friday in China, the real intrigue came from the performance of Red Bull.

Before the weekend began Lewis Hamilton warned “you definitely can’t count them out” and said he expected them to come good.

“They’ve had a bit of a slower start but if you look last year, for example, they won the race here,” said Hamilton. “They finished strong so I anticipate it could be something similar.

“Also their end of straights have been really good. Where they usually have a really strong car and not such a strong an engine it’s the other way this year. They’ve got not as strong a car but they’re one of the teams that can develop at a similar rate to Ferrari and us.”

Red Bull management have talked up the gains they have seen after switching to Honda power and said more needed to come from their chassis. Has that been borne out by this weekend’s developments?

After the Bahrain Grand Prix team principal Christian Horner said the team needed to find the “magic password” which would allow them to get the most out of the notorious peaky Pirelli tyres. It seems they may have done just that.

Today he revealed the team had corrected a fundamental error in the set-up of its cars. The effect seems to have been immediate. Having been eight-tenths off the pace on Friday in the first two races of the year, the team were just two-tenths away in Shanghai.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019
Bottas looked more comfortable than Hamilton in the Mercedes
This caught some of their rivals – including Ferrari – by surprise. Max Verstappen set a strong lap and Pierre Gasly was on a comparable run until he made an error in the final sector.

“We found a mistake in the set-up so I think naturally it is going better here,” Verstappen confirmed after second practice. Of course it remains to be seen whether their rivals have more pace in reserve for qualifying.

“I think we’re all quite confident that if we would solve that it would look already a lot better,” said Verstappen. “And I think that showed again today.”

Nonetheless the fragility of the tyres is likely to challenge them and their rivals this weekend. “The tyres are pretty weak,” Verstappen added. “They degrade quite a lot, the softer compounds. It’s not really nice to drive, you’re really just managing tyres.”

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Behind the usual ‘big three’, The Renault-powered cars put on a strong showing. Nico Hulkenberg was fifth, as he was on Friday in Bahrain, before power unit problems wrecked his qualifying effort. He said he is hoping for his first trouble-free qualifying session of 2019 to grab a place in Q3.

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019
Hulkenberg is hoping for a trouble-free qualifying session
However he also has an eye on the pace of Renault’s customer team. “McLaren look pretty strong today to be honest,” he said, “quite an impressive long run from them on the soft.”

His team mate pointed out that reaching Q3 could be a mixed blessing at this track. Q3 would be nice but I actually don’t know if starting on the soft is better than the medium because the soft actually doesn’t look like a great tyre here for the long run,” said Daniel Ricciardo.

“We’ll see. We’ll try and do that because we obviously want to be as far up as possible but in any case we’ll be better for Sunday.”

Haas have tended to gain pace from Friday to Saturday. They need to if they’re to be among the Q3 contenders this weekend. The team spent much of the day trying to resolve their poor race pace from Bahrain.

Robert Kubica, Williams, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019
Williams seem in slightly better shape
Kimi Raikkonen’s second practice lap time indicates Alfa Romeo should be in with a chance of getting at least one car into Q3. Toro Rosso could have done without the disruption to Danil Kvyat’s day. Honda noticed an anomaly in his power unit data on his last lap in first practice and chose to replace it, meaning he missed part of the season session. The old engine has been flown back to their Sakura headquarters for inspection.

Toro Rosso could therefore find themselves at the tough end of the fight to escape Q1. But Racing Point seem to be in a similar position: Sergio Perez admitted they “are far at the moment” and “need to find a lot of lap time”.

While Williams haven’t shown any sign yet of getting in among the rest of the rubbers, Robert Kubica at least expressed some satisfaction that the car’s balance seems to be better this weekend.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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:

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’34.6531’33.33060
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’33.9111’33.35752
3Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’34.3341’33.55149
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’34.1181’34.03753
5Nico HulkenbergRenault1’35.5911’34.09653
6Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault1’35.7561’34.14160
7Charles LeclercFerrari1’34.1671’34.15834
8Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault1’35.6311’34.29662
9Daniel RicciardoRenault1’35.2391’34.33655
10Pierre GaslyRed Bull-Honda1’35.4281’34.45555
11Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’35.7291’34.55156
12Alexander AlbonToro Rosso-Honda1’35.6951’34.63463
13Daniil KvyatToro Rosso-Honda1’35.4471’34.69444
14Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes1’35.4661’34.77962
15Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes1’35.8201’34.78459
16Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’35.5171’34.78859
17Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’35.5071’35.70456
18Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’35.91442
19Robert KubicaWilliams-Mercedes1’36.8471’36.12165
20George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’37.6191’36.22964

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2019 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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11 comments on “Have Red Bull found their “magic password” by fixing set-up mistake?”

  1. Red Bull weren’t that far off in Melbourne (hardly an ideal track for them anyway) and Bahrein was, as is now clear, a (costly) fluke caused by a mistake. I don’t think they have a bad car, I don’t think they’re quite at Ferrari’s level, but at certain tracks they should be able to challenge. All the front-running cars seem to be track-specific, with the Ferrari the fastest but unreliable. If RB can keep some semblance of this form, never rule out Verstappen I reckon.

  2. Considering previous 2 races have seen bigger year-on-year improvements in FP2, and here we see only -0.1s improvement… I don’t believe for a second, that these times are representative.

    We may have as well finish with Williams on P1, but we all know where they will be tomorrow.

    1. i must have been a conspiracy then.. all the teams in the right order sandbagging all the way.

      1. All the teams sandbagging is hardly a conspiracy. On the other hand a track where Red Bull is strong sees the least improvement since last year makes sence since they struck down hard on the aero this year.

  3. It’s interesting, maybe the colder temperatures might help a bit on the balance of Williams, at least it looks the car is more predictable. If they look on the bright side, they are just 0.4 behind a Haas. :)
    Seriously, I just want them to catch-up a bit in order to see what Russel and Kubica can do this season. All the other pieces of this years puzzle are just fitting awesomely for us. Ferrari rivalry between teammates, a less subservient Bottas, top 3 more mixed, Mclaren getting back on form, midfield battles all around, pressure on Renault to deliver, B-teams, there’s only need for Williams to improve now ( and get rid of DRS and mandatory pitstop, but that is another story)!

  4. Some people doubted me when I said RedBull found more than 0,5 sec after the GP of Bahrain in testing.. looks like they found 0,6 based on today’s running.

    1. They found nothing, they know what they are doing.

  5. Looks like Toro Rosso a very, very good in the long runs – better even than Red Bull. Would love to see that in the race.

  6. Red Bull has the best car and best driver so i will never count them out but i really hope they will do more than some odd wins this year, its been a while since they where competing for the title.

    “Of course it remains to be seen whether their rivals have more pace in reserve for qualifying.”
    Yes it remains to be seen if Mercedes is gonna break their 5 year long streak of sandbagging…. Im gonna guess they wont.

  7. I don’t see a line on the graph for Charles Leclerc. Is that because he didn’t do a long enough run?

  8. “magic password” ?
    aka 2 stroking the engine for short burst for a massive increase in horsepower!
    In a nutshell what Merc’s Party Mode is.
    Ferrari also have it. Remember the oil burning controversy of last season?
    So Red Bull & Honda have finally got their version sorted out!

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