FP2: Bottas shades Vettel with Verstappen close behind
After Ferrari appeared to enjoy a comfortable advantage in Free Practice 1, Valtteri Bottas showed that Mercedes were still in the fight in China, the Finn going fastest in FP2 in Shanghai by just 0.027s from Sebastian Vettel.
Despite early spins for both Bottas and team mate Lewis Hamilton, Bottas recovered to lead the session with a 1m 33.330s, while debris on the track meant Hamilton was unable to nail a quick lap, leaving him fourth and 0.7s adrift of the Finn.
Red Bull will have been buoyed by the performance of Max Verstappen, who finished just over two tenths down on Bottas’ time in third – and that despite a wobble at the final corner on his fastest lap that would have lost him some time.
Like Hamilton, Charles Leclerc was another front-runner failing to set the time sheets on fire in FP2, the near-winner in Bahrain finishing the session down in seventh place. The Monegasque ended his session early too, after Ferrari parked his SF90 to carry out cooling system checks on the car.
Despite those problems, Leclerc was at least two spots up on the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly, the Frenchman appearing to continue to struggle in the RB15, a car he described as “tricky” in the build-up to this weekend’s on-track action.
Leclerc and Gasly’s subdued performances, meanwhile, left Renault and McLaren to star in the session, Nico Hulkenberg ending up a strong P5 – as he was in FP2 in Bahrain two weeks ago – while Carlos Sainz was P6, the pair of them comfortably within a second of Bottas’ time, and with their respective team mates Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo making up the rest of the top 10 in P8 and P9.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was on the back foot in the session, after the team noticed an issue on his Honda power unit in FP1 and decided to swap it out for a new one for FP2. The problem appeared to resolve itself, however, Kvyat ending up P13 – although with the team still working on his STR14 as FP2 got started, the Russian saw his track time limited.
Another team with worries were Haas, after Romain Grosjean’s front wing appeared to suffer a failure as the Frenchman was riding the bumps going into Turn 1. The team will likely have to devise a quick-fix solution to bolster the part ahead of Saturday’s running.
Meanwhile, after an engine installation issue that saw him fail to set a lap time in FP1, Antonio Giovinazzi was back out in FP2, but his best time was only good enough for P18, 1.363s down on team mate Kimi Raikkonen’s best in P11. The Italian was two-tenths clear of Robert Kubica in the leading Williams, meanwhile, with team mate George Russell bringing up the rear of the field.
So, with qualifying 24 hours away, there appears to be nothing between Mercedes and Ferrari – but Verstappen appears to be in the mix for Red Bull as well, and would surely love to become F1’s 100th polesitter in the 1000th World Championship event.