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With positives and negatives in equal measure for Ferrari and Mercedes, Friday in Shanghai left plenty of room for interpretation.
Friday practice, even at the best of times, is far from an exact science, and yet it’s usually possible to discern who has the advantage. Here in Shanghai? Well, you can write the narrative any way you want it.
Are Mercedes on top? Obviously, Valtteri Bottas did just top the timesheets. Or are they in trouble? If their advantage was due to their now-banned front-wing, then absolutely. Maybe you think Ferrari has plenty still to come?
Fair, considering Sebastian Vettel was P2 with no decent long run put in, and Charles Leclerc is yet to get a proper run at all. Or maybe there’s a repeat of Bahrain on the cards? Also fair, given there’s no guarantee the necessary pace will come, nor that Leclerc’s “cooling problem” will be fixed for the rest of the weekend. Whichever way you slice it, there’s plenty of optimists and pessimists alike.
Funnily enough, it’s the “other” member of the big three that it’s easiest to highlight the positives for. Red Bull, courtesy of Max Verstappen, were surprisingly decent across the board – third fastest outright, faster than the Ferrari on their soft-tyre sim, and fastest of all teams on the medium.
Assuming Verstappen’s late gearbox problem is minor – and Pierre Gasly’s €800 fine for pit-lane speeding doesn’t send them into bankruptcy – they look set for a very competitive race day. Everything else? We’ll have to wait to find out.
- 0.904s. Gap to Verstappen for Gasly. If you were hoping this weekend would be the one where he finds his feet, you might have to wait a little longer.
- Four. Renault-powered cars in the top ten. A promising start, now if only they could get all four to the finish…
- 0.207s. Gap between George Russell and Alfa’s Antonio Giovinazzi, the best Friday result for Williams this year by quite some margin. Maybe they’ll not be completely embarrassed on Sunday!
- If I’m Sebasitan Vettel or Charles Leclerc, I don’t think I’d be particularly satisfied with Mattia Binotto’s comments on Friday. Simply giving Vettel the “advantage” in “any 50-50 situation” while reiterating they are free to fight isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of his number one, and I would think Leclerc feels just as emboldened as he did after Bahrain.
- A big welcome back to TV for the one-and-only Ted Kravitz. Sky’s broadcasts just haven’t been the same without his unique mix of nerdy enthusiasm and affable awkwardness.
- Interesting admission from Racing Point regarding the disruption caused by last year’s ownership drama. Certainly, they’ve taken a slight step back compared to last year, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them improve considerably as the season goes on – especially if they introduce a B-spec chassis as they did in 2015. In the meantime, I suppose they’ll have to content themselves with pissing-off Seb.