Daniel Ricciardo has finished fastest in a rain-affected final practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix today that saw most of the front-runners choose to spend most of their time in the pits.
The Red Bull driver posted a fastest time of 1:53.958 on Saturday morning at the Shanghai International Circuit to finish ahead of Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, but few drivers made a serious effort to finish on top of the timesheets.
Rainfall overnight meant that the track was wet for the beginning of FP3 on Saturday morning, prompting the teams to head out on the intermediate tire at the beginning of the session. Some oil on the track from a supercar race also complicated matters, and most opted to sit out the first part of the session. The Lotus drivers were the first to venture out for a serious run with Romain Grosjean winning the inter-team battle with his initial lap time, and his effort remained the benchmark for the first half of the session.
In a bid to beat Grosjean, Valtteri Bottas spun his Williams as the British team once again lamented the wet conditions that have hindered its qualifying form for much of the season. Jules Bianchi and Marcus Ericsson also struggled to keep their cars on track, but Daniel Ricciardo – after first taking a quick selfie – managed to finally topple Grosjean’s time to go fastest of all on the intermediate tire.
After encountering rear suspension trouble on Lewis Hamilton’s car yesterday, Mercedes’ concerns now lay with the #44 car of Nico Rosberg as the mechanics worked on his brakes throughout the session. Compatriot Sebastian Vettel was also left on the sidelines for a small part of the session because of a minor fire on one of his brake ducts, but he eventually got back out in order to assess the conditions further.
With 20 minutes to go, Pastor Maldonado’s session came to an early end once again due to a problem on his Lotus E22 car that forced him to pull over on the side of the back straight. A lot of teams opted to curtail their running early in order to avoid a crash in the slippery conditions that could potentially sideline a car for qualifying later today.
Ultimately, Ricciardo’s lap time was good enough to secure him P1, but it is unlikely that the results from this session will bear any resemblance to the starting grid in China.
You can watch qualifying live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2am ET. Click here to tune in via live stream.
MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.
Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda
- 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish
Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.
His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.
But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.
With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.
Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.
Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.
“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.
“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”
Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.