Chinese GP 2017

APRIL 8, 2017

Practice 3 Report - Clearing the air

Sebastian Vettel, Chinese GP 2017
© RV Press


By Dan Knutson

A dry track and relatively clear skies were the order of the day for Free Practice 3. All in all, far better conditions the day before when Friday's practice sessions had been wiped out because cloudy conditions in Shanghai prevented the medical helicopter from flying.

Australian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel was the one that did the flying in FP3 as he set the fastest time of the session in his Ferrari.

The lineup for the weekend was: Mercedes Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas; Red Bull TAG Heuer Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen; Ferrari Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen; Force India Mercedes Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon; Williams Mercedes Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll; McLaren Honda Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne; Renault Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer; Toro Rosso Renault Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz; Haas Ferrari Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen; Sauber Ferrari Marcus Ericsson and Antonio Giovinazzi.

"Obviously not a great day," Hamilton said of Friday. "I've only done one lap on the 2017 wet tires so far this year and, from what I could tell on that out-lap, they feel pretty similar to last year's so I don't have any particular worries over it.

"But there's a bigger picture today. The track was absolutely fine and we could have run all day today with no issue if it weren't for the clouds. It's not good for the fans watching on TV and even worse for all those people in the stands, who have paid money to come out here from the city or even from other countries. They've barely seen a car on track today, which must be tough for them.

"We need to work together with the FIA and FOM to find a solution or an alternative plan of some kind when we have circumstances like this in the future."

In all, the total number of laps completed by the drivers was less than one-tenth of that of a normal Friday.

So the drivers and teams were anxious to get to work, and Palmer headed a line of cars leaving the pits. Pirelli's soft and super soft compounds were the tires of choice.

The ambient temperature at the start of the 60-minute FP3 session was 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 91 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Centigrade).

"In order to collect as much information as possible, most teams are splitting strategies and running different tires," Pirelli tweeted.

Grosjean clocked the first flying lap in 1:41.238. The times tumbled quickly as Ricciardo got down to a 1:37.411 on the soft tires. Then he did a 1:35.647 on the super softs.

Palmer was having a bit of trouble and had two spins just minutes apart. Perez, currently second fastest, also had a quick spin.

Just before the midpoint of the session Raikkonen jumped ahead with a 1:34.519 on the super softs.

So halfway through FP3 the order was: Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Perez, Stroll, Vandoorne, Ocon, Verstappen, Vettel, Hamilton and Hulkenberg.

It didn't stay that way for long as Vettel ran the super softs to clock a 1:33.336.

Vettel holds the qualifying lap record at the Shanghai circuit with his lap of 1:33.706 in a Red Bull in 2011.

Many drivers were now really on it, and the track was getting more rubber on the racing line. Massa grabbed third place ahead of Verstappen. Then Ricciardo displaced Verstappen.

The Mercedes drivers were missing from the front mix at this stage. Hamilton was 18th and Bottas 19th with 20 minutes to go.When they did have a go on the super softs, Bottas slid in the final corner and posted a time 0.997 of a second slower than Vettel, and Hamilton was not much quicker at 0.757 off Vettel's lap.

Raikkonen then improved to move up to second with a 1:33.389.

The top 10 with 10 minutes remaining were: Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Bottas, Massa, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Stroll and Kvyat. Four minutes later all the drivers except Vettel were on track, but he soon joined the action.

Bottas got down to a 1:33.707 third best.

Hamilton was on a flier. He posted the quickest time in Sector 1, but he was slow in Sector 3 and thus his time of 1:33.879 was fourth best.

The final top 10 order was: Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Hamilton, Massa, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Stroll, Palmer and Sainz.

At the end of FP3 the drivers and teams certainly had a lot clearer picture of their cars' set-up requirements than they did at the end of murky Friday.