FP2: Three different cars in the first three position in China

Lewis Hamilton topped both Friday practice sessions ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, but Ferrari again showed signs of being able to challenge Mercedes over a race distance during the two 90 minute sessions.

Following Sebastian Vettel’s victory in Malaysia, the big question heading to China was whether Ferrari could sustain its challenge to Mercedes’ F1 hegemony. The times in first practice suggested the pendulum had swung back in favour of the world champions, but in second practice Kimi Raikkonen offered hope of a genuine battle emerging for the second race in a row.

Nico Rosberg could only manage fifth in the second Mercedes, with Kimi Raikkonen emerging as Hamilton’s closest rival and Daniel Ricciardo putting his Red Bull between Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel’s Ferraris in third.

The spectator incident was the first curiosity. The man accessed the track on the pit straight and ran across to the pitwall between cars before climbing into the pitlane, where he was apprehended.

At that point, Hamilton led Rosberg by a tenth of a second following the early medium-tyre runs, with the Mercedes formation a second clear of the rest.

Raikkonen was their closest rival, and initially managed the best soft-tyre lap of anyone, leaping to a 1m37.662s to lead the session. That was seven tenths better than Vettel and Rosberg – who had a messy final sector – could manage.

But Hamilton was able to put together a tidier lap than his team-mate and came through in 1m37.219s to steal Ferrari’s limelight. The Red Bulls sat out the first half of the session and were then interrupted by a red flag when they did join in.

Felipe Massa lost his Williams at high speed under braking at the end of the back straight, scraping the wall in the hairpin run-off with the front of his sideways car. Although there appeared to be only minimal damage, Massa parked in the run-off and a stoppage was required to retrieve the car.

When Ricciardo did get chance to do a flying lap, he shot between the Ferraris to go third, with Kvyat taking sixth. But Kvyat’s session then came to an early end when smoke started pouring from his rear brakes. Even though he followed Red Bull’s advice to proceed very slowly back towards the pits, the Russian could not slow down sufficiently into the Turn 14 hairpin and skated all the way to the wall.

Kvyat still held his top-six place as by that time the field had switched to long runs – which were enlivened by Rosberg and Raikkonen managing several corners of unusually spicy wheel-to-wheel racing for a practice session.

There were signs of light for McLaren, as its new alliance with Honda appeared in the top 10 in a session result for the first time.

Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m37.219s 32
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m37.662s 0.443s 35
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m38.311s 1.092s 24
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m38.339s 1.120s 30
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.399s 1.180s 35
6 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull/Renault 1m38.737s 1.518s 10
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m38.850s 1.631s 27
8 Felipe Nasr Sauber/Ferrari 1m39.032s 1.813s 26
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus/Mercedes 1m39.142s 1.923s 32
10 Jenson Button McLaren/Honda 1m39.275s 2.056s 29
11 Pastor Maldonado Lotus/Mercedes 1m39.444s 2.225s 30
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Honda 1m39.743s 2.524s 27
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m39.751s 2.532s 33
14 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso/Renault 1m39.894s 2.675s 32
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso/Renault 1m39.971s 2.752s 28
16 Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 1m40.151s 2.932s 28
17 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m40.423s 3.204s 7
18 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m40.868s 3.649s 24
19 Roberto Merhi Marussia/Ferrari 1m42.973s 5.754s 27
20 Will Stevens Marussia/Ferrari 1m44.564s 7.345s 8