Chinese Grand Prix: practice report

massaNico Rosberg and Felipe Massa topped the tables in the first two practice sessions for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix this morning, sessions anyone with a television could enjoy as the BBC broadcast them for the first time. This weekend is the first live race of the BBC’s season and, whaddyaknow, it’s shaping up nicely.

Team-mates have dominated all discussion since we last assembled around that broadcast from Malaysia when the expression ‘Multi 21’ entered the vernacular. The Vettel vs Webber vs Webber’s Dad row dominated and we largely forgot Nico Rosberg’s whining to Ross Brawn to let him pass and beat Lewis Hamilton. Lewis had to apologise on the third step for what looked like a gift of a podium position from the team… possibly in return for signing that contract.

We also largely forgot a wild first lap from Fernando Alonso which ended with him ignoring the obvious and attempting a racing lap with a front wing at 45 degrees to the intended direction of travel. Evidence perhaps that ‘Nando was feeling the pressure from his own team mate who had once again out-qualified him. A year ago Massa and Alonso had finished the race nearly a lap apart don’t forget.

We assume Lewis Hamilton is in a different class to Nico Rosberg, just as we assume Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa play in different leagues. And the results, especially the killer points/start stats, support the assumption. But they don’t allow for differences in machinery. We’ve already said here that Massa was able to show Raikkonen the way home at Ferrari and that, before the accident, was there or thereabouts with Alonso.

But what about Rosberg? Hamilton has yet to do anything on the track this year that gives him and the team the right to declare him number one driver. It might be in the contract, but he has yet to show it on the track. Rosberg wasn’t remotely freaked by Michael Schumacher and is showing similar disinterest in Hamilton’s reputation. At Mercedes and at Ferrari, we expect to hear plenty more about team-mates and team orders.

Red Bull has of course drawn two very separate lines under its own incident. The first, direct from Red Bull’s global HQ, located next to the giant bottling plant, is largely a PR stunt. It makes it clear that ‘Red Bull doesn’t do team orders’, that in the gnarly, high-fiving rad’ world of extreme sports it would just be, you know, terminally unhip to do so. So the drivers can race once they’ve been made aware of the broader competitive situation. Just like they did in Malaysia, long before Christian Horner had been summoned to Austria.

Vettel meanwhile had already made it abundantly clear how he felt with his own personal statement that he would ‘probably’ do it again. Which translates as he knows he’s faster than Webber anyhow, and that he’ll win a fourth title for Red Bull on his own, which frankly he did last year and the year before and the year before that. This has never been a happy little team, and Webber has always been number two. All that’s changed this weekend is that Webber doesn’t need to pretend otherwise.

Webber was faster than Vettel in both sessions as the world champion struggled to find the pace in the mediums and the distance in the softs. McLaren, who started the weekend confident it knew what was making it cars slow ended the day sixth and 11th after FP2, Button leading Sergio Perez home, the Mexican having joined that exclusive band of drivers who’ve gone off in the pit lane in the morning session. Kimi Raikkonen, 11th in the first session, finished the second session just behind Massa and a long way ahead of team-mate Romain Grosjean.

Lotus, it would seem, is the only leading team untroubled by a battle for supremacy between its two drivers. FP1 then; ROS, HAM, WEB, VET, ALO, BUT, MAS, SUT, GRO, DIR. And FP2… MAS, RAI, ALO, ROS, WEB, BUT, HAM, SUT, DIR, VET.

Qualifying starts at 0700hours BST, though both the BBC and Sky are on at 0600hours. If you don’t want to wake up that early, BBC highlights are at 1300hours.

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