Lewis Hamilton may have enjoyed a healthy advantage at the top of the timesheets in both practice sessions for the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday, but the Mercedes driver remains wary of Ferrari’s pace following the Italian marque’s shock victory in Malaysia.
Sebastian Vettel stormed to Ferrari’s first win in almost two years in Sepang two weeks ago, soundly beating Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg with a well-executed two-stop strategy.
Heading to China for this weekend’s race, most expect Mercedes to resume normal service and win the race thanks to the cooler conditions that should suit the W06 Hybrid car.
However, during practice on Friday, both Vettel and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen showed a good long-run pace that suggests they may still be in the running for victory in Shanghai.
Despite being pleased with the progress that Mercedes has made since the last race, Hamilton does not believe that Ferrari has lost any of its pace, and is expecting a fight for the win on Sunday.
“Today was definitely an improvement on Friday in Malaysia,” Hamilton said. “It was good to get both sessions in and that puts me in a stronger position.
“The team has done an amazing job to find some improvements in the car. Balance-wise it’s way better than the last race and it was generally feeling really good.
“It was quite close between us and Ferrari. They look just as fast as they were last time out and Nico was quick as well, so we definitely have a race on.
“But I feel like I’ve got some improvements to make and I think we’ve got the pace to stay ahead.”
Hamilton’s caution was shared by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, who said that the team would be working hard following practice to cover its back and avoid another defeat in China.
“Ferrari are close, and closer still on the long runs,” Wolff said. “We saw in Malaysia that we need to get every detail right to put together a winning weekend.
“So this will be our focus tonight as we do our analysis and tomorrow in preparation for qualifying. It will be an exciting battle.”