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F1 fans – and Darth Vader – raise a laugh on gray Friday in China

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Friday’s Formula 1 running ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai is unlikely to be remembered very fondly by any of the drivers, with their days reduced largely to sitting in the back of the garage.

Wet weather wasn’t the issue. Instead, the thick fog that hung over Shanghai meant the medical helicopter was unable to land at the local hospital, putting the sessions on hold.

It wasn’t the weekend F1 wanted in China. At a time when Liberty Media is looking for ways to improve the sport and increase its entertainment value, to have Friday’s running written off felt like a bit of an own goal.

And yet the passionate fans in China were able to offer some brilliant scenes as they refused to have their mood dampened by the drab weather.

Despite only hosting F1 since 2004, China is home to some of the sport’s most passionate fans, with even the engineers having fan clubs come out in support in Shanghai. Haas engineer Ayao Komatsu was given a cheer by a banner in the grandstands on Friday.

But naturally, it is the drivers who garner the most attention. Sebastian Vettel had a small group of fans out in force, although clearly one of them didn’t get the memo about who was ‘L’…

They got there in the end though.

Lewis Hamilton went the extra mile to go and speak with his fans, throwing a number of signed Mercedes caps into the crowd after being given the green light to cross the track during a session.

“I have an amazing following here, there are a lot of British flags out there. It’s a real shame they everyone drives out because it’s a long way from the city and people have traveled from all over to come out,” Hamilton said.

“Then the weather’s not great for us, but they sit there patiently waiting, do one lap in practice in P1 and then no laps in P2. I’m just grateful that the FIA opened up to let me go on the track, let me run across to get to the other side. You’re normally not allowed to do that.”

But the undoubted surprise of FP2 was the appearance of actual Darth Vader in the grandstands.

How do we know it’s actual Darth Vader? He even got a tag on the FOM world feed as ‘Sith Lord’.

So for all of the woe about the lack of on-track action, F1 fans were able to come through with the goods once again on Friday in Shanghai, making FP2 one of the most entertaining sessions-that-wasn’t-a-session in recent memory.

That said, it’ll still go some way to topping the rain stoppage in qualifying for the USGP back in 2015…

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.