Sebastian Vettel was the fastest man in Free Practice 3, as Scuderia Ferrari enter Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix in red hot form.
Vettel’s time of 1 minute 33.018 seconds could not be matched, with team-mate Kimi Räikkönen over four-tenths away in second. Valtteri Bottas led the waning Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport charge in third.
Räikkönen was the quickest of the sparse early runners as clouds loomed above the Shanghai International Circuit, immediately opting for the ultra-soft tyres. After his first attempt at a flying lap was blighted by Kevin Magnussen, the Finn started to lower the pace from a 1 minute 37.763 seconds into the 1 minute 34 seconds bracket.
His time at the top was short lived, as Vettel proved to be on the pace straight away, getting into the mid 1 minute 33 seconds – closing in on Lewis Hamilton‘s session best time from yesterday afternoon.
The battle for top spot proved to be solely between the two Ferrari cars, with Räikkönen resuming the lead – lowering the benchmark by two tenths halfway through the one hour session. Moving into the final 15 minutes, Vettel obliterated the fastest time of the weekend, getting within touching distance of a sub 1 minute 33 seconds lap on ultra-soft tyres.
Mercedes, meanwhile, struggled. Bottas tried to take the fight to Ferrari but could only get within seven-tenths of Vettel. Hamilton lagged in fifth, not even in the 1 minute 33 range. The Brit looked uncomfortable all session, running wide numerous times at the Turn 14 hairpin and suffering a spin on the exit of Turn 10 after venturing onto the sodden astroturf – ruining a set of soft compound tyres in the process.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing had a contrasting session. Max Verstappen showed brilliant pace late in the session, setting the fourth fastest time; however Daniel Ricciardo was subject to a rather different experience. The Red Bull mechanics started and ended the session furiously working on the Australian’s car, with just six laps in between. With just under half-an-hour to go, Ricciardo’s turbo whined and popped, leading to a spectacular looking failure on the back straight.
The same could be said for the Haas F1 Team‘s morning. Kevin Magnussen continued his good early season form in sixth without using the ultra-soft tyres. On the other side of the garage, Romain Grosjean saw a reoccurrence of the brake issues that have plagued Haas’s first two seasons, managing – like Ricciardo – six laps.
The Sahara Force India F1 Team saw both their cars finish the session in the top ten, showing a noticeable improvement. Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon were seventh and eighth respectively, around one and a half seconds shy of Vettel’s best time.
Carlos Sainz Jr. followed close behind in ninth for the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team, with Nico Hülkenberg just outside the top ten in eleventh. Sandwiched between them was Sergey Sirtokin for Williams Martini Racing, as the team finally entered the top half of the order after a dismal start to 2018. Sirotkin was over a second faster than team-mate Lance Stroll, who languished in seventeenth at the end of a quiet session.
Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were almost two seconds off of Ferrari and Vettel’s pace in twelfth and thirteenth, with Renault Sport struggling for power down the kilometre long back straight in comparison to the standard-setting Ferrari powered cars. On two occasions, Vandoorne’s engineers lost telemetry, breaking up his on-track action.
After the dizzying heights of Bahrain last week, Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda came back down with a bump. Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly sandwiched the fifteenth placed Ricciardo; but a repeat of Gasly’s stunning fourth place last time out looks unlikely.
The same could be same for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team. Charles Leclerc and team-mate Marcus Ericsson were effectively slowest with only Grosjean behind them, courtesy of his previously mentioned brake issues.
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