Alonso fastest in first practice for Chinese GP

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Fernando Alonso finished fastest in today’s first practice session for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix as Ferrari began life after Stefano Domenicali in good fashion.

The Spanish driver finished over three-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg as the Silver Arrows opted to limit their running in order to save some tires. Daniel Ricciardo was the leading Red Bull in third place, whilst Lewis Hamilton suffered a problem on his car late on that meant he could only finish down in eighth place.

Practice began in cool and dry conditions at the Shanghai International Circuit on Friday morning, but the heat was immediately on at Ferrari as the team had to repair the steering rack on Kimi Raikkonen’s car, costing him precious track time. The arrival of new team principal Marco Mattiacci in the garage also turned a few heads as the Italian remained behind his dark sunglasses, but it did not have an immediate impact as the Finn was unable to post a time during the session.

Out on track, Pastor Maldonado spun his Lotus early on after taking his eyes off the road mid-corner to make an adjustment on his steering wheel. However, the Venezuelan was able to recover and get his car going again.

With the new rules giving teams a free set of tires to use during the first 30 minutes of FP1, most of the teams got their drivers out early to post a lap time during this part of the session. Unsurprisingly, Mercedes once again set the pace as Nico Rosberg was the quickest driver in the first set of runs, but the team’s one-two streak from Bahrain was interrupted to begin with by Fernando Alonso, who sat in second place ahead of Lewis Hamilton after the first runs.

A low track temperature forced most teams to sit in the pits for some time after the first 30 minutes of the session. Lotus did send out Romain Grosjean for a long run in order to gather some data given the teams problematic start to the season. Daniil Kvyat’s inexperience showed when he ran wide at the tricky first corner and spun his rear wheels into the gravel. However, he managed to keep the engine running and get the car going again, although another spin late on would have given the Russian driver some food for thought.

With 40 minutes to go, most of the teams headed back out on track to complete some more running. Fernando Alonso was able to top Rosberg’s time and moved into P1 by over one second, and Daniel Ricciardo followed suit to go P2. The Mercedes drivers opted not to head out for another run alongside the other teams, with Hamilton instead completing an outlap before heading back to the pits.

In the final 20 minutes, the focus shifted to race simulations and long runs, meaning that the times remained largely unchanged. Rosberg did wind up his Mercedes to post a quick lap and jump up into second place, but he could not continue the team’s series of first place finishes from Bahrain. This meant that Alonso – who won last year’s race in Shanghai – began his weekend in the best possible fashion, and gave Mattiacci something to smile about on his first day on the job.

Be sure to tune into second practice live on on NBCSN from 2am ET.

Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s INDYCAR race was postponed until Monday

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Here’s what several drenched drivers had to say after Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was postponed until Monday morning (11:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 pole winner): “It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us. We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much. There was too much puddling and pooling of water on every straightaway. Then the rivers started flowing, high-speed compressions in Turns 1 and 2, fast corner, 12 and 13, fast corner where the river starts to form. Just tough. I mean, look, we love racing in the rain. It’s got nothing to do with not wanting to run in the rain, not being able to do that. It’s that this type of track with this water level was too much to race today. We’ve run here in the rain before, but it intensified to the point where you’re starting to get in a situation where it’s going to take it out of the drivers’ hands. What happened with Will (Power), I don’t think is a driver error. I don’t know how anyone is going to drive hydroplaning on the front straightaway. I think you would have had that for the rest of the track, too. A tough situation. Thanks for the fans that came out and supported us. Hopefully we’ll get some people back tomorrow and we’ll get the show in and put on a great event.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
“Tough day so far. We had some problems with our radio and fuel alarm, but otherwise the car was alright. It was just too dangerous out there, we couldn’t see anything, so I think they made the right call. Hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s just a real shame for everyone on the Verizon Chevy team. The car was good and we were doing our best out there, but it was really hard to see anything in front of me. The conditions were just so bad. As soon as I got to the frontstraight, the car just came around, and I tried to keep it off the wall, but it was hydroplaning and there was nothing I could do. I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather. Just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Very difficult day for us. In the race we were 13th at the time and we had some electrical issues, so that caused us to pit and we lost a lap. Not the ideal situation, but we don’t give up. There’s still a race tomorrow and we’re going to go for the most points. Anything can happen.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue today, no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in today, but that’s life. We will go racing tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “I think definitely the right decision was made to red flag the race. It’s a very difficult position for everyone to be in. It’s never the result that you want, but safety is obviously a priority. I think everyone did a good job considering the conditions of looking out for each other. Not being able to see is not doing anybody any good. It is hard for everyone, but glad that we’re all in one piece and try again later.

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “As you could see on TV, if you couldn’t see the car, it was probably three times worse in the cockpit on the main straight or any straight. You had to completely trust the guys that they were accelerating. Never the less, I made good progress on the short stint and I made up a few positions.  The car was working well, but also was aquaplaning a lot, too, so I have to respect INDYCAR’s decision for everyone’s safety. Now we really need to concentrate on having a good car for tomorrow. I’m sorry for the fans that sat in rain all day, but thank them for their support.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “It was a short day. In the beginning the conditions were not that good, but afterwards the conditions started to improve. The race was stopped, then restarted, and I think the conditions were not too bad at that point. Unfortunately, it was red flagged again and then cancelled for the day. It would have been nice to get halfway, but we will come back and try again tomorrow.”