Brought to you by Adam Macdonald (@adamac39)
As with FP1 and FP2 before, it was a Marussia car that made it onto the circuit first followed closely by a Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel wasted no time in dispatching Will Stevens into turn one, clearly showing he means business, even in Free Practice. With little more than two minutes on the clock we had lost a car already, as Fernando Alonso pulled up on the side with puffs of blue smoke intermittently exiting his MP4-30.
Jenson Button was swiftly warned that “the problem had not been fixed” – ominous signs for McLaren and Alonso, who are already onto almost their third complete powerunit of the season. The Spaniard keeping his helmet on as he made the short journey back to the pits looked somewhat like the Stig in his blank race overalls.
It was left to the Sauber pair to set the pace to start with as Felipe Nasr edged out his teammate by 0.030 seconds, after struggling in Malaysia with a lack of track time to setup his C34 and an early collision with Raikkonen compounding the problem. A similar fate could await Romain Grosjean after he gave up his FP1 seat to 2014 GP2 Champion, Jolyon Palmer, though last night the Frenchman said, “We completed a good number of laps and the car feels basically pretty strong.” Rear brake setup adjustments prohibited him from joining the fray as Mercedes went 1-2 and Ferrari 3-4.
FP3 will be an important session for Force India as both drivers alluded to more being required. Hulkenberg stated last night, “We obviously have some work to do in order to extract some more performance from the car, especially as we switch between the different tyre compounds, but that should be the main focus for us tonight.” Sergio Perez felt the need for greater single-lap time was of paramount importance to making the most of the weekend.
Williams had their own issues to contend with after both drivers complained about smoke in the cockpit – hardly reassuring before the business part of the weekend. It was revealed that the team had not managed to fix the new front wing that Felipe Massa had broken yesterday in his crash, although the difference was reported as negligible.
Romain Grosjean made it onto the circuit just before the half hour mark and duly provided those who had braved the small hours with a great camera shot, getting on the power early out of a corner and watching the car snap out at the rear. Some fine tuning then occurred for cars throughout the paddock as conditions were ideal for comparison runs.
Daniil Kvyat went top of the timesheets when he strapped on the soft tyre to go 0.670 seconds clear, setting a 1:39.106. He was immediately bettered by Nico Rosberg, who set a 1:37.841 as he looked effortless in fluttering around the 5.45km circuit. Lewis Hamilton found a greater delta between the two tyre compounds and jumped to the top with a 1:37.615.
Surprisingly given the power deficit, Red Bull performed well on the soft tyres slotting into 3rd and 4th, which became 5th and 6th once the Ferrari drivers showed their hands. The uncharacteristic lack of pace from the FW37 will have raised a few eyebrows, though at least the power delivery was consistent, unlike the RB11 of Daniil Kvyat which was forced to cruise around the track – instructed for “minimal use of the brakes.” He joined his teammate who was also experiencing the chronic over heating problems of the braking systems.
With just 0.7 seconds separating 5th through to 17th, qualifying is set to be an extremely competitive affair – especially Q2. The closest scrap looks to be between the Saubers and Lotus’, with the Sauber pair seeming to fade as the weekend goes on.
On the face of it, the weekend is Mercedes’ to lose from here – although as the old adage goes, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:39.020||1.405||8|
|6||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull||1:39.106||1.491||14|
|7||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||1:39.113||1.498||17|
|9||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso||1:39.274||1.659||19|
|12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:39.513||1.898||14|
|17||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:39.781||2.166||17|