April 12th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Second practice for Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix delivered a very mixed order, with five different teams featuring in the top six. At the end of the 90-minute session it was Ferrari's Felipe Massa who came out on top, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus and Fernando Alonso in the other Ferrari.
FP2 saw all of the drivers use the option tyres, the soft compound Pirellis, for the first time this weekend. It was expected that the difference in performance between the two tyre compounds would be around eight tenths of a second, but for many of the drivers it turned out to be far greater than that on low fuel. Some of the front-runners showed time improvements of over a second and a half, which is extremely significant and makes the soft tyres essential for qualifying.
As usual, the teams conducted high fuel tyre testing, in order to gauge how long the compounds will last in the race. In that regard, the medium tyre (this weekend's prime tyre) lasted surprisingly long. Lewis Hamilton managed a stint of at least 27 laps on a single set of tyres, which is very long indeed and suggests that some drivers might attempt a one-stop strategy on Sunday. If anything, the tyres will last even longer as the weekend progresses, as today the track was quite dusty but will continue to clean up through tomorrow and the race on Sunday.
The tyres did show some fragility, as Jenson Button discovered when he locked up heavily and his left front started to delaminate. Fortunately he was close to the pitlane and managed to crawl to his pit garage for a change of tyres.
The only reliability issues in the session came from Max Chilton's Marussia, which came to a halt twice with oil pressure issues. Whether the problem is with actual oil pressure or just a sensor is not clear, but the team will be spending some of their time before tomorrow's FP3 looking at the issue. A few drivers spun during the session, particuarly as their tyres got older on the long runs, but Sergio Perez was once again the only driver to make contact with a barrier, running backwards into the tyre barrier after spinning in turn 8. There was no visible damage to Perez's car and he was able to recover to the pits.
The good news for the teams at the back of the field is they managed to close the gap to the midfield significantly from FP2. Jules Bianchi in 19th was only four tenths slower than Pastor Maldonado ahead of him and just half a second off 16th place. There is a possibility of a Marussia progressing to Q2 tomorrow in qualifying.
Thus far the race looks like it will be a fight between Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Lotus, which is much as was expected before the weekend. However, the teams still have another practice session tomorrow morning in which to improve their setups and prepare for qualifying and the race. Force India and McLaren will be using that time as well as they can to close the gap to the front.