Lewis Hamilton was narrowly faster than the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in the second practice session ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix. The four times champion made a number of small mistakes on his first laps, before going fastest.
The Englishman knew that this weekend that he needed to lay down a marker, after topping FP1 Ferrari responded with Raikkonen getting within a tenth of the Mercedes. Their teammates Valtteri Bottas was third and Sebastian Vettel fourth, suggesting another close battle in China.
The first two races of the year have been won by Vettel, however, he has been pushed throughout by both Mercedes. Once again, both teams appear equally matched on both the ultrasoft and soft tyres. Once again, straight-line speed appears to be Ferrari’s strength while Mercedes had the edge in the high- and medium-speed corners.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was three-tenths of Hamilton in fifth, the Dutchman appearing to show that the team are just a little bit too far away to challenge the top two on single lap pace. Verstappen was three tenths off, while his teammate Daniel Ricciardo was ninth after failing to hook up a lap.
On the long runs, Mercedes looked very strong on the ultrasoft tyres however the race is expected to be run on the soft and mediums, but that should translate to good grip on the harder compounds.
Hamilton told BBC News “It has been a good day. Ferrari were quick and Red Bull looked really fast on the long run. It’s good to see all the times so close, but it means that we really need to bring our A game”
Vettel told Sky Sports “I think the car has the pace but we need to make sure we get it to work. Hopefully tomorrow I am very happy.”
Nico Hulkenberg had another impressive session; the Renault driver was sixth ahead of Kevin Magnussen. Earlier, the German had shown strong pace on his qualifying simulations before settling for sixth a tenth faster than the Dane.
Carlos Sainz was ninth ahead of fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who used the tow of his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne along the back straight. The two allowed Alonso to go faster by a tenth of a second and the Belgian to finish fourteenth.
Vandoorne’s session was cut short after he became the latest driver to be forced to stop because of a pit stop error. McLaren failed to attach the tyre to the car, with the Belgian reporting “the tyre is not on.”
It is the fifth time this season a car has been released from the pits without all four wheels tightly attached, and the FIA have been investigating Ferrari’s procedures after a team mechanic suffered a broken leg in Bahrain.
Sergio Perez was eleventh with his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon thirteenth, the duo being narrowly spilt by the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly.
Romain Grosjean could only manage eighteenth fastest after he spun the Haas on his qualifying simulation, that put him behind both Sauber’s of Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc.
Lance Stroll was slowest having also spun on his qualifying simulation at the Turn eight, saying “I just lost the rear” over the radio. Also spinning around, was Ericsson on the inters in the closing moments.
Light rain meant that only a few cars went out in the last minute for a taster of the inters.