Shanghai Saturday Review: Dare I say it was…exciting?

After the misery of Friday, Saturday brought the sun to the Shanghai International Circuit, and with it, a plethora of on-track action.

Unless you want to count the farce that was yesterday’s sessions, FP3 was the first chance the teams got to put their cars through their paces, and dare I say it was… exciting?

That’s not usually a world you use to describe practice, but the combination of long runs and qualy simulations against a short clock made it a frantic 60 minutes. Especially after the discussion over shaking up the weekend format yesterday, it only boosted the case for such a move.

And while it hasn’t been unheard-of for Ferrari to “win” the final practice session, it was clear their 1-2 here – with a three-tenths lead to Mercedes – paved the way for one hell of a fight. It’s readily apparent this is as close as Mercedes have been run at any point in the V6 era, and even though Lewis Hamilton still ended up on pole, this was a definite “win” for the Scuderia.

Anyway, onto qualifying. HAM-VET-BOT-RAI. No, it’s not quite BUT-GRO-PER, but it’s looking like it’ll be a familiar sight on Saturdays this year, and with it, expect plenty of arguments about “car v driver” to flare up too. Has Ferrari caught up (and Hamilton’s just that good)? Or does Mercedes still have the edge (and Vettel’s just that good)?

When the margins are as fine as they’ve been for the first two races it’s really impossible to tell – not that it’ll matter much tomorrow, considering the impending rain and all.

Of course it wasn’t just Ferrari and Mercedes on-track (although they might as well have been), with plenty to talk about elsewhere too.

After pissing off all of Australia with Daniel Ricciardo’s engine failure, this time it was Max Verstappen’s turn to cark it, two of his V6’s cylinders deciding to knock-off early. If this keeps up, expect the same Renault-Red Bull tiff from 2015 to surface once again.

It was a shame to see Antonio Giovinazzi crash at the end of Q1 – but it did get me thinking about the underrated value of a tough final corner. If you’re going to crash, at least the crowd get their money’s worth.

Lance Stroll managed to keep his car on track and make it through to Q3 for the first time in his career. That’s progress. Next step – actually get close to your teammate. He was 0.713s off teammate Felipe Massa.

Two birthdays were celebrated in the paddock on Saturday, with Williams’ Paddy Lowe and Haas’ Guenther Steiner officially completing another trip ‘round the sun.

Both were presented with presents: Steiner a walking cane, Lowe a DVD compilation of every Rosberg-Hamilton spat he adjudicated from the last three years. I’ll let you decided which one of those is fake.

Shanghai Saturday Review by Ben Stevens