Shanghai FP3: Vettel leads Ferrari 1-2

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen set the two quickest lap times in practice at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday, as the rain and fog finally cleared to allow the drivers on the track during a busy pre-qualifying session.

Vettel’s time of 1 minute, 33.336 was just a second slower than the lap record at the track, set by Michael Schumacher in 2004. It was also more than 2 seconds faster than last year’s quickest qualifying time in Shanghai, set by the now-retired Nico Rosberg.

Vettel just barely edged his teammate, Raikkonen, who set a time of 1:33.389. The fast practice laps provide further evidence that Ferrari’s pace is much improved this year, allowing the scarlet cars to compete with the long-dominant Mercedes team.

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was nearly 0.4 seconds off the pace, posting a lap time of 1:33.707. His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, went wide on a hairpin turn on his final flying lap, ending up with the fourth-fastest time of the session at 1:33.879.

The gulf between the top two teams and the rest of the field was significant. Williams’ Felipe Massa was nearly 0.9 seconds behind Hamilton in fifth place, followed by the Red Bull cars of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Williams’ Lance Stroll, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz rounded out the top 10 in the final practice session.

The teams didn’t waste any time in the hour-long session after Friday’s practice runs were nearly completed wiped out due to poor visibility from rain, fog and smog. All the drivers made quick exits from the garage to allow ample time to test their full array of tires before qualifying later in the day.

The poor visibility on Friday grounded the circuit’s medical helicopter, limiting practice to about 20 minutes in the morning. Many drivers failed to set a lap time, including Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen.

The dreary start to the Chinese GP prompted speculation the schedule might be adjusted to allow more practice time or move the race ahead a day to avoid the rain forecast for Sunday. The FIA, however, ruled out any change.

Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai International Circuit – Free Practice 3, Best Lap Times

1 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:33.336   20
2 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:33.389 +0.053s 19
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:33.707 +0.371s 26
4 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:33.879 +0.543s 25
5 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:34.773 +1.437s 23
6 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:34.946 +1.610s 20
7 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:35.092 +1.756s 23
8 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:35.182 +1.846s 24
9 30 Jolyon Palmer RENAULT 1:35.192 +1.856s 21
10 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 1:35.223 +1.887s 24
11 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:35.449 +2.113s 22
12 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 1:35.521 +2.185s 22
13 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:35.626 +2.290s 20
14 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 1:35.680 +2.344s 22
15 26 Daniil Kvyat TORO ROSSO 1:35.804 +2.468s 23
16 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:35.811 +2.475s 24
17 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:35.912 +2.576s 17
18 9 Marcus Ericsson SAUBER FERRARI 1:36.063 +2.727s 25
19 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 1:36.221 +2.885s 21
20 36 Antonio Giovinazzi SAUBER FERRARI 1:36.705 +3.369s 24

Note – Practice 2 was cancelled due to poor weather conditions.