McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has posted the fastest time in a rain-hit opening practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix, despite his MP4-27 still running with its yet-to-be-replaced damaged gearbox.
The opening 90-minute session featured little in the way of meaningful running as teams sought to save their wet-weather tyres for later in the weekend when more wet weather is forecast to hit the Shanghai International Circuit.
Hamilton is, according to team principal Martin Whitmarsh, “99% certain” to be running a replacement gearbox at some stage during the weekend, meaning he will incur a five-place grid penalty for his troubles.
Despite this, he still finished a second clear of the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, posting his best lap on his final tour of the five-kilometre circuit. His MP4-27 sported an unusual-looking aero sensor positioned behind the car’s diffuser.
Three teams’ reserve drivers were in action this weekend, although none was able to clock anywhere the number of laps they may have hoped for in their sole outings for the weekend. Valtteri Bottas was again in action in Bruno Senna’s Williams, while Jules Bianchi and Giedo van der Garde had their maiden free practice outings, for Force India (replacing Paul di Resta) and Caterham (in place of Vitaly Petrov), respectively.
Track conditions were deemed wet when the circuit opened for business, but progressively dried enough for some teams to attempt some exploratory laps on dry-weather tyres, before the heavens opened again some 40 minutes into the session.
The rain fell intermittently for much of the remainder of the session, but the track never got wet enough to force a switch back to the Pirelli intermediate tyres.
Mark Webber eventually posted some sort of a representative lap-time to move into top spot, which he held until the closing minutes of play when he was displaced by Hamilton, the two Mercedes and both Saubers, who filled the top-five places on the timesheets.
Sebastian Vettel – running an older-configuration exhaust on his Red Bull RB8 – finished up seventh-quickest, with the Milton Keynes team frustrated at the lack of dry running necessary to evaluate the performance of Vettel’s exhaust set-up in comparison to the newer-spec design that Webber has used for the last two rounds.
An annoyed Jenson Button finished the session eighth-fastest, having had his final flying lap ruined as he was unintentionally baulked by slower runners. The top-ten places were completed by the two Toro Rosso runners, with Daniel Ricciardo finishing two-hundredths of a second quicker than team-mate Jean-Éric Vergne. Both STR7s were seen to be emitting sparks from the underside of their chassis’, which would indicate that too-low a ride height was being run on the bumpy circuit.
The Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa finished eleventh and twelfth-quickest respectively, with their F2012s sporting flow-vis paint as the team sought to gain improvements to the ill-handling car’s set-up.
The session featured little in the way of any significant incidents, although both Lotus runners opted to stop running in the closing minutes of the session – hence their positions well down the timesheets. Kimi Räikkönen ended the session as the slowest driver, with his E20 hit by a DRS issue that saw the Finn having to manually open and close the device during his limited running.
2012 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:37.106||7|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:38.116||+ 1.010||14|
|3.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:38.316||+ 1.210||14|
|4.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:38.584||+ 1.478||13|
|5.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:38.911||+ 1.805||12|
|6.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:38.977||+ 1.871||15|
|7.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:39.198||+ 2.092||12|
|8.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:39.199||+ 2.093||6|
|9.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:39.748||+ 2.642||16|
|10.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:39.768||+ 2.662||14|
|11.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:40.056||+ 2.950||14|
|12.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:40.153||+ 3.047||14|
|13.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Renault FW34||1:40.298||+ 3.192||8|
|14.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:40.328||+ 3.222||13|
|15.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||1:40.540||+ 3.434||12|
|16.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||1:41.071||+ 3.965||14|
|17.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:41.204||+ 4.098||14|
|18.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:42.330||+ 5.224||14|
|19.||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham Renault CT01||1:42.521||+ 5.415||11|
|20.||Jules Bianchi||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:44.118||+ 7.012||8|
|21.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:44.227||+ 7.121||10|
|22.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:44.500||+ 7.394||15|
|23.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:47.207||+ 10.098||12|
|24.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:50.465||+ 13.359||11|