Rosberg leads Mercedes 1-2 in China first practice

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The first practice session of the Chinese Grand Prix features the same top four finishers as in Malaysia three weeks ago, but not in the same order.

In the opposite of how they finished in Malaysia, Mercedes was comfortably 1-2 with Red Bull 3-4, and in this session Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber ended with the upper hand against World Champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

Rosberg dropped in laps at 1:36.904 and with 28 minutes remaining, the fastest time of the session at 1:36.717. The German, the defending race winner and polesitter in China, was the only driver to enter the 1:36 range.

Webber, his back against the wall in the face of the “Multi 21” scandal, ended nearly three tenths up on Vettel, but still 0.941 off the Mercedes pair. Vettel waited until half of the 90-minute session had elapsed before going out, and pitted with 10 minutes remaining for a front wing change.

Behind the top four, Fernando Alonso edged Jenson Button for best of the rest, but each were more than one second off Rosberg’s pace. Felipe Massa clocked in seventh in the second Ferrari.

Completing the top 10 were Adrian Sutil, Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta – Grosjean’s Lotus the meat in a Force India sandwich. Kimi Raikkonen, who failed to score in China a year ago, finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and more than two seconds off Rosberg’s pace.

Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez had minor off-and-ons in the session but nothing terminal. Gutierrez ended 18th, behind the rest of the midfielders, some 3.3 seconds off the pace and 0.7 behind Valtteri Bottas’ Williams a spot ahead of him.

Sergio Perez had a late off in the same spot as where Hamilton did in his inaugural Chinese GP appearance for McLaren in 2007. Perez got stuck in the gravel at pit in (see above video). He ended only 16th.

The Marussia and Caterhams were much further back – 5.2 seconds and change off Rosberg’s times. While Jules Bianchi’s leading the queue doesn’t surprise, Max Chilton got ahead of fellow rookie Giedo van der Garde, and the trio left Caterham’s Friday driver, local boy Ma Qing Hua, in the dust. Ma, who replaced Charles Pic, ended 6.8 seconds off the mark.

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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