Raging Bulls and Rubber Gloves: Chinese GP Preview
Red Bull have opened the Chinese Grand Prix weekend with Sebastian Vettel cleansweeping the fastest time in all three free practice sessions.
It seems as if the team from Milton Keynes is set to complete another exercise in dominance this weekend, though it must be said that KERS, currently the sole chink in their Adrian Newey-styled armour, is ready to kick up another fuss as it did in Malaysia.
It was Mark Webber who suffered last round at the hands of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, the system failing before the race itself actually started, leaving him vulnerable off the line, seeing him fall from third to tenth after the first lap. Sebastian Vettel also encountered difficulties with the system after the midway point, though he was in a controlling enough position to maintain the lead and take his second victory for the season.
Webber spent a considerable amount of time in the garage during FP3 with his mechanics apparently working on the trouble boost system, donning rubber gloves and setting up warning signs to avoid any electrical accidents. He was sent out to complete one slow lap before coming back in, KERS still not working for him. Questions were also raised as to whether or not Sebastian Vettel was actually using his in the first place, with FOM graphics showing only a very small amount of battery power having been used after one lap.
It’s no wonder the team were so coy to explain their then-mysterious lack of KERS in Australia – it’s now in the open that the team are struggling to come to grips with the idea of the system, which gives KERS-veterans McLaren an opportunity to pounce. With the champions bogged down trying to have their system actually work, McLaren will be looking to capitalise via their impressive development programme. Luckily, though, Red Bull have a car inherently fast enough to cover their shortcomings in qualifying, though McLaren will undoubtedly be keeping them honest.
Speaking of which, the development on the new-new McLaren is well underway with a modified exhaust/diffuser system being trialled this weekend. However, what should have brought additional performance to the car left them further behind on Friday, which had them implement a hybrid system of new and old parts, bringing them back within striking distance of the pack leaders.
Over at Renault, the see-saw that is Nick Heidfeld’s form has tilted against him this weekend, with crashes in both FP1 and FP2. He ruined his copy of the team’s new front wing design and will be forced to run the old-spec nose for the remainder of the weekend. He was ahead of Petrov by a tenth or so on Friday, though the Russian finally got the better of Occasionally Quick Nick this morning.
Mercedes are looking a little happier after their practice performances, with Nico Rosberg finding his way to fourth in the final session after a Friday keeping his car thereabouts with the three frontrunning teams. Much like Renault, it’s been difficult to tell exactly where they are in terms of pace thus far this season.
Ferrari spent Friday completing some aerodynamic tests. The team have been in a confused damage-control for most of the season, with both their pre-season form and windtunnel data failing to translate to pure pace, particularly during qualifying. They’ve improved their tyre management over the week, though the results of their emergency return to Maranello after Malaysia won’t be seen until Formula One head back to Europe in May.
Finally, as for tyres, Pirelli have said that they expect one-stop strategies to be looked at this weekend, with degradation being significantly lighter in China in comparison to Malaysia last weekend. With Sauber so far proving to be the easiest on its tyres, eyes will be on them to see if they try any particularly aggressive strategies.