Chinese GP: Vettel beats Hamilton and Leclerc in FP1

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel topped the first practice session for the 1000th Formula 1 World Championship race in China on Friday morning.

Chinese GP: Vettel beats Hamilton and Leclerc in FP1

Having established clear superiority in straightline speed at the preceding race in Bahrain, Ferrari was expected to build on that advantage on the long straights of the Shanghai International Circuit. And it proceeded to do so as Vettel surged ahead while running a harder compound of tyre than Hamilton, who closed out the session fractionally faster than Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc.

Red Bull arrived in China hoping to be closer to Mercedes and Ferrari after identifying a set-up issue that hindered Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly in Bahrain. But while fourth-placed Verstappen’s fastest time of 1m34.334s on soft tyres was only two tenths off Hamilton’s best on similar rubber, it was nearly half a second slower than the benchmark Vettel set on mediums. Gasly only ran on the medium and hard Pirellis and was therefore more representative of comparative pace – and he ended the session seventh fastest with a 1m35.428s, 1.5s adrift of Vettel.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, the championship leader, was fifth with a 1m34.653s he set on the soft tyres, while Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo also employed the softer rubber and sneaked ahead of Gasly to post the sixth quickest time.

More on the Chinese GP:

A number of teams elected to replace engine components ahead of practice: Renault gave Nico Hulkenberg an entirely new power unit package (ICE, MGU-H, MGU-K and turbocharger) and Ricciardo a new MGU-K, while McLaren’s Lando Norris also took on a new MGU-K. Norris’s team-mate Carlos Sainz got the revised component in Bahrain after his failure in Australia.

Ferrari took the unusual step of replacing the control electronics in both its own cars as well as the Haas entries, but not the Alfa Romeos.

Since Shanghai is a seldom-used track as well as being front-limited, it evolves greatly over the course of the weekend and teams seldom go for glory runs in first practice. The session was 20 minutes old before any drivers actually set a timed lap and it was the two Mercedes who were fastest in the initial running, largely by dint of lapping on soft tyres while most other team sent their drivers out on harder rubber. 

Hamilton set an early benchmark of 1m35.102s on the softs, but since this was only a little over two tenths faster than Max Verstappen wrung out of his Red Bull on a set of hard tyres - one of only two sets he’s allocated this weekend - it was only a matter of time before the laptimes began to tumble as the track evolved.

After a further brief lull in activity the majority of the drivers headed out again with 30 minutes to go, and it was here that Ferrari began to show its hand properly as first Leclerc and then Vettel overhauled Hamilton with a 1m34.167s and a 1m33.167s respectively, on the medium tyres. Hamilton then split the Ferraris with a 1m34.118s on softs, set at the beginning of a five-lap run.

Verstappen then beat his earlier time during a three-lap run on soft rubber, but none of the other frontrunners subsequently improved.

In Gasly’s immediate wake, Daniil Kvyat was eighth for Toro Rosso and Lance Stroll ninth for Racing Point despite a spin at the final corner early in the session. Both ran on medium tyres throughout, while Romain Grosjean closed out the top 10 for Haas with a 1m35.507s set on softs. Just over a tenth of a second separated seventh-placed Gasly from 11th-placed Kevin Magnussen.

Of the regular front-midfield runners, Alfa Romeo had a relatively disappointing showing as Kimi Raikkonen finished 15th and Antonio Giovinazzi completed just two installation laps, spending the rest of the session in the garage.

Session results

Pos Driver Chassis Engine Laps Time Gap
1 Germany Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari 19 1'33.911  
2 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 21 1'34.118 0.207
3 Monaco Charles Leclerc Ferrari Ferrari 21 1'34.167 0.256
4 Netherlands Max Verstappen Red Bull Honda 20 1'34.334 0.423
5 Finland Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 23 1'34.653 0.742
6 Australia Daniel Ricciardo Renault Renault 23 1'35.239 1.328
7 France Pierre Gasly Red Bull Honda 23 1'35.428 1.517
8 Russian Federation Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Honda 24 1'35.447 1.536
9 Canada Lance Stroll Racing Point Mercedes 25 1'35.466 1.555
10 France Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 24 1'35.507 1.596
11 Denmark Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 25 1'35.517 1.606
12 Germany Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault 22 1'35.591 1.680
13 United Kingdom Lando Norris McLaren Renault 24 1'35.631 1.720
14 Thailand Alex Albon Toro Rosso Honda 26 1'35.695 1.784
15 Finland Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Ferrari 23 1'35.729 1.818
16 Spain Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren Renault 24 1'35.756 1.845
17 Mexico Sergio Perez Racing Point Mercedes 24 1'35.820 1.909
18 Poland Robert Kubica Williams Mercedes 27 1'36.847 2.936
19 United Kingdom George Russell Williams Mercedes 29 1'37.619 3.708
20 Italy Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Ferrari 2    
shares
comments
Renault switches all its cars to new-spec MGU-K

Previous article

Renault switches all its cars to new-spec MGU-K

Next article

Ferrari introduces new CE to address Leclerc failure

Ferrari introduces new CE to address Leclerc failure
Load comments
The back-bedroom world-beater that began a new F1 era Prime

The back-bedroom world-beater that began a new F1 era

The first in a line of world beaters was designed in a back bedroom and then constructed in a shed. STUART CODLING recalls the Tyrrell 001

Why Mercedes isn't confident it's really ahead of Red Bull at Imola Prime

Why Mercedes isn't confident it's really ahead of Red Bull at Imola

While Mercedes struck back against Red Bull by topping the times at Imola on Friday ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the overall picture remains incredibly close. Despite having a possible edge this weekend, the reigning Formula 1 world champion squad is not taking anything for granted...

Formula 1
Apr 16, 2021
What Mercedes must do to keep its F1 title challenge on track Prime

What Mercedes must do to keep its F1 title challenge on track

Mercedes may find itself leading the drivers' and constructors' standings after Lewis Hamilton's victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix, but it is well aware that it came against the odds, with Red Bull clearly ahead. Here's what the Brackley team must do to avoid its crown slipping .

Formula 1
Apr 16, 2021
The double whammy that is defining Vettel’s F1 fate Prime

The double whammy that is defining Vettel’s F1 fate

It's been a tough start to Sebastian Vettel's Aston Martin F1 career, with a lack of pre-season testing mileage followed by an incident-packed Bahrain GP. But two key underlying factors mean a turnaround is no guarantee.

Formula 1
Apr 14, 2021
The themes to watch in F1's Imola return Prime

The themes to watch in F1's Imola return

Three weeks is a long time in Formula 1, but in the reshaped start to the 2021 season the teams head to Imola to pick things up after the frenetic Bahrain opener. Here's what to look out for and the developments to follow at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Formula 1
Apr 13, 2021
The 'new' F1 drivers who need to improve at Imola Prime

The 'new' F1 drivers who need to improve at Imola

After a pandemic-hit winter of seat-swapping, F1 kicked off its season with several new faces in town, other drivers adapting to new environments, and one making a much-anticipated comeback. Ben Anderson looks at who made the most of their opportunity and who needs to try harder…

Formula 1
Apr 12, 2021
The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture Prime

The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture

Aston Martin’s only previous foray into Formula 1 in the late 1950s was a short-lived and unsuccessful affair. But it could have been so different, says Nigel Roebuck.

Formula 1
Apr 10, 2021
Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace Prime

Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace

Max Verstappen’s star quality in Formula 1 is clear. Now equipped with a Red Bull car that is, right now, the world title favourite and the experience to support his talent, could 2021 be the Dutchman’s year to topple the dominant force of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

Formula 1
Apr 9, 2021