|© AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
Ferrari may have sorted out its weakness in pace over a single lap after Fernando Alonso blitzed the opposition in the final practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday.
With a time of 1 minute 35.391 seconds around the Shanghai International Circuit, the Spaniard was a massive sixth-tenths quicker than teammate Felipe Massa, suggesting that the Italian team was a favourite for pole position in qualifying later in the day.
"The grip level had improved this morning and the team worked on checking the set-up as well as doing some practice starts and pit stops," the team said in a statement. "Both Ferrari men were happy with the soft compound Pirelli, seen here for the first time this season, which they used on the last of their three runs."
The rivalry between Alonso and Massa also has a slight edge this weekend, with Massa surprisingly having qualified ahead of Alonso, Ferrari's No. 1, in each of the past four races. No teammate has ever out-qualified Alonso five straight times, but Massa has a chance to do that later Saturday.
Worryingly for the other teams, the Ferraris did far fewer laps in the practice session, indicating the team is very comfortable with its set-up.
Lewis Hamilton was third fastest, though there were concerns for Mercedes with teammate and the race's defending champion Nico Rosberg suffering a reliability issue which prevented him setting a time on the soft-compound tyre, consequently featuring 14th in the order.
"Something's broken in the springs or something. Lots of bottoming," Rosberg reported over the radio as he limped back to the pits with his outing ending about 15 minutes before the chequered flag with what was established as a hydraulic issue.
Defending champion Sebastian Vettel, meanwhile, was 0.895 seconds off the pace in fourth. It is unclear whether Red Bull is being coy or whether it’s genuinely slower than its rivals this weekend. The German’s teammate Mark Webber was just over a second slower from the pacesetter in fifth.
This spells good news for mid-field team Force India, particularly with Adrian Sutil setting the sixth quickest time ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, while the Finn’s teammate Romain Grosjean languished in a lowly 18th.
McLaren continued to struggle to unlock the potential of its cutting-edge new design with Jenson Button in eighth ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, who ran a completely different set up than he did on Friday as the Mexican had struggled immensely in the first two practice sessions.
“I feel the rear is quite loose. Very poor traction” Perez reported over the radio during his early runs indicating that he still wasn’t confident with the car.
Nico Hulkenberg rounded up the top ten but not before he was caught out by his teammate Esteban Gutierrez on one of his runs. The Mexican was coasting while the German was on a hot lap forcing Hulkenberg to go off the track at Turn 1 as he went off line to get past Gutierrez’s Sauber.
Early in the session, an ambulance had made an appearance in the pit lane after a Marussia mechanic hurt his leg when Max Chilon’s car was pushed back into the garage. The injury sustained was believed not to be a serious one.
With inputs from the AP report by Chris Lines