Despite boasting one of the longest straights on the Formula 1 calendar, the Shanghai International Circuit provides a sigh of relief for Renault and Ferrari powered cars who were completely outpaced by cars fitted with Mercedes power units in Bahrain a fortnight ago. The Bahrain track is a power circuit which played to the strengths of Mercedes and its customers. However, with less amount of time spent on full power in China, it is expected that the other cars will be a lot closer to Mercedes, but with the German manufacturer still maintaining a healthy advantage.
In FP2, teams were busy evaluating the right setup and strategy for the race. This year, we’ve seen teams giving preference to the option tyre for majority of the race. However, with the prime tyre(medium in China) better suited to lower temperatures of Shanghai, teams had to gather data on both the sets before making a decision as to which tyre will be given preference come race day. The choice will depend on level of degradation on soft tyres as well as the pace difference between the two compounds, among other factors.
As far as one lap pace is concerned, it seems that Mercedes are sandbagging and are yet to show their true pace. Further, their drivers had their own sorts of problems. Lewis Hamilton’s start to the session was delayed by almost half an hour on account of a suspension problem. Even after he got out on track and set the fastest lap time, he wasn’t happy with how the car was behaving. Nico Rosberg’s fastest lap, in turn, was interrupted by yellow flags caused by Pastor Maldonado, who crashed at the pitlane entry.
In the long run, Mercedes were the only ones to lap consistently in 1:43s with Red Bull their closest challengers. The Brackley based squad is carrying a new ‘stubby nose’ with which they wanted to start the season with, but couldn’t do so as it didn’t pass the crash test.
Ferrari and Force India would be fighting for the title of third fastest car on Sunday. The former would be particularly pleased with their performance, considering they were languishing in ninth and tenth place at the end of the Bahrain Grand Prix. They’ve got a new brake duct this weekend but that doesn’t provide a valid answer as to how they’ve managed to make such gains over a span of two weeks. Rather, it's more to do with the contrasting characteristics of these two circuits.
Another thing to note is that Alonso nearly lost two seconds behind Jenson Button and hence his actual average time was a lot better than 1:44.660.
Williams aren’t particularly far behind the above duo but tyre degradation may again haunt the Grove based outfit. This circuit is particularly hard on front tyres and wouldn’t appeal much to the tyre hungry Williams FW36.
McLaren, as in Bahrain, are aiming for the best of the rest slot behind Mercedes. But long runs, for some reason, show a different story. They’ve got further updates to their car this weekend but it seems they aren’t enough to put them back in front.