x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Hamilton's balancing act

Lewis Hamilton plays down his chances of victory in tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix despite clocking the fastest lap in practice.

McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain talks with a team mechanic during the first practice session in Shanghai.
McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain talks with a team mechanic during the first practice session in Shanghai.

Lewis Hamilton played down his chances of victory in tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix despite clocking the fastest lap in yesterday's practice sessions. The 2008 world champion recorded a time of 1min 35.217secs in the afternoon session on the Shanghai International Circuit to complete a pleasing day for McLaren-Mercedes after teammate Jenson Button had topped the timesheet in the morning.

Hamilton knows he cannot read too much into the result after enduring frustrating qualifying sessions in the last two races. And when asked if his performance yesterday makes him favourite to win tomorrow, the Briton said: "I don't think so really. You don't know what the other guys have been doing. I don't really know what the Red Bulls have been up to today. Our pace looks pretty similar to theirs on the longer run, but we don't know if they are on lighter fuel or not."

The Shanghai circuit boasts long straights, particularly in the final sector, which a number of teams believe will play into McLaren's hands, but Hamilton does not believe the MP4-25 is any faster than its rivals on the long runs. "Everyone talks about our straight-line speed advantage but it is rubbish," he added . "The Ferraris are doing the same speed as us at the end of the straight. "We are a little quicker than some others but some are able to put some more downforce than us. It is a mix because they could drop the downforce and match us but maybe they wouldn't be so fast in the middle sector. We have a good balance and hopefully that will help us tomorrow."

Nico Rosberg maintained his impressive form as he was second quickest in his Mercedes GP, ahead of the world champion Button and Michel Schumacher, Rosberg's teammate. The Red Bull-Renaults of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were fifth and sixth, and the team, who have taken pole position in the three races this season to date, are confident they are in good shape for today's qualifying session. Vettel said: "That was good, we had no big issues and the car was working fine. We did quite a lot of laps so it was a solid day."

Webber added: "It was our first really clean Friday, which was encouraging." But it was not such a good day for Fernando Alonso, the double world champion, as an engine failure prevented him from setting a lap time in the first practice session in his Ferrari, and he was more than a second off the pace in the second session in 10th place. Coming fresh off a similar blow-up in Malaysia, the latest problem has thrown fresh concern over Ferrari's reliability.

But Alonso claimed he was not worried. "Clearly I'm not happy to have had an engine failure, but I'm not the slightest bit worried by it," he said. "The engine I had was the one we had changed after qualifying in Bahrain and we knew that, sooner or later, it could break." Felipe Massa, Alonso's teammate and championship leader, was 11th quickest. Sebastien Buemi survived a high-speed crash in his Toro Rosso-Ferrari after a mechanical failure led to both his front wheels coming off at the end of the long back straight.

* Compiled by Graham Caygill, with agencies Watch final practice at 7am and qualifying at 10am on Abu Dhabi Sports 2