Friday, 17 October 2008

Chinese Grand Prix: Friday Practice Sessions

Just 5 days after the dramatic and hugely controversial Japanese Grand Prix, it's back to business for the Formula One teams and drivers. Much of the pre-race press conference schedule has been dominated by questions over the baffling decisions of the race stewards in Japan, and over the driving style of a certain Lewis Hamilton. But all the talking will stop and all drivers will have to attempt to put those thoughts to the back of their minds once the track action begins in earnest in Shanghai.

This race was of course the scene of the beginning of the demise of McLaren's title aspirations last season, when Hamilton and his crew were so busy trying to out smart their team mates they made a bad call on the tyre strategy and Hamilton ended up in a gravel trap. This gifted a vital ten points to eventual champion Kimi Raikkonen, a man who McLaren clearly weren't at all concerned about at the time. And boy did they live to regret that mistake!

Whether the track will turn out to be a recurring nightmare for Hamilton remains to be seen, but going into the race he still maintains a 5 point lead in the championship despite his trials and tribulations in Japan, and has a very real chance of being able to clinch the WDC this weekend if all goes his way. His rival Massa knows that ideally he needs to win and see his team mate take second if he is to maximise his chances of winning the title at his home race in Brazil in a couple of weeks' time. Outside bet Robert Kubica knows that he needs both rival drivers to have another shocker like in Japan if he still wants a fighting chance going into the season finale.

The first practice session kicked off in subdued fashion, with the track remaining quiet for much of the first half hour. Eventually the action begun with Kimi Raikkonen being the first of the major players out to set a time. From that moment on it was a case of Ferrari and McLaren trading blows throughout the session. Kovalainen knocked Raikkonen off top spot, before Felipe Massa signaled his intent by going fastest. Hamilton had a minor off early in the session but soon recovered to go top. Everybody improved slightly, most notably Hamilton who knocked a full four tenths off his early benchmark to finish the session on top and the only man to break into the 1:35s.

The BMWs, Renaults and Toro Rossos fought it out to be best of the rest, but in truth were quite a distance away from the two leading teams. There were no surprises really throughout the field, aside maybe from Jenson Button finishing a respectable 12th place for Honda after a pretty awful weekend at their home Grand Prix last weekend.

Practice One Times

01 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:35.630 23 laps
02 F. Massa Ferrari 1:36.020 24 laps
03 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:36.052 23 laps
04 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:36.103 21 laps
05 R. Kubica BMW 1:36.507 25 laps
06 F. Alonso Renault 1:36.661 24 laps
07 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:37.040 23 laps
08 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:37.070 32 laps
09 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:37.180 30 laps
10 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:37.278 25 laps
11 M. Webber Red Bull 1:37.491 25 laps
12 J. Button Honda 1:37.619 25 laps
13 K. Nakajima Williams 1:37.630 23 laps
14 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:37.638 22 laps
15 N. Rosberg Williams 1:37.638 26 laps
16 T. Glock Toyota 1:37.664 29 laps
17 R. Barrichello Honda 1:37.827 28 laps
18 J. Trulli Toyota 1:38.219 24 laps
19 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:38.285 25 laps
20 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:38.479 26 laps

The second session again saw Lewis Hamilton top of the pile, as he remained the only man to dip under 1:36 at the end of the first day. The order behind Hamilton was somewhat different however, as Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet underlined Renault's late season rally by taking second and third places. Ferrari had a much quieter session this time out finishing down in sixth and eighth place.

The pace was generally a little slower all round this session as the teams focussed on long run simulations for the race on Sunday. The times seemed a lot closer as well this session, with 2nd place down to 16th being separated by less than a second. Hamilton was ahead at the front on his own, and the Force Indias and Hondas were cut adrift at the bottom, someway short of any kind of competitive pace.

Practice Two Times

01 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:35.750 33 laps
02 F. Alonso Renault 1:36.024 36 laps
03 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:36.094 38 laps
04 J. Trulli Toyota 1:36.159 32 laps
05 M. Webber Red Bull 1:36.375 38 laps
06 F. Massa Ferrari 1:36.480 31 laps
07 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:36.529 32 laps
08 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:36.542 34 laps
09 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:36.553 38 laps
10 N. Rosberg Williams 1:36.556 33 laps
11 T. Glock Toyota 1:36.615 33 laps
12 R. Kubica BMW 1:36.775 37 laps
13 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:36.797 33 laps
14 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:36.808 36 laps
15 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:36.925 38 laps
16 K. Nakajima Williams 1:36.975 31 laps
17 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:37.473 38 laps
18 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:37.617 33 laps
19 J. Button Honda 1:37.800 37 laps
20 R. Barrichello Honda 1:37.904 36 laps

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