April 12th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Last year, Mercedes were untouchable in China, with Nico Rosberg winning from pole position and Michael Schumacher losing out on a sure second place to a pitstop error by the team. This year, the pace seems just as impressive as it did last time Formula One came to Shanghai, and again the quicker of the drivers is Nico Rosberg, although this time it is Lewis Hamilton who is his team-mate.
Free Practice 1 saw Rosberg lead Hamilton in a Mercedes 1-2, with the nearest competitor - Red Bull's Mark Webber - almost a second off the pace. FP2 was about long run pace for Mercedes, and consequently Rosberg and Hamilton did not particularly trouble the top of the time sheet, but still ended up fourth and seventh respectively. The Mercedes looked settled and driveable throughout both sessions, and Rosberg in particular looked very comfortable at the wheel, which is not surprising given that his only Grand Prix victory came at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The major concern that came out of Mercedes' Friday running is long-run management of the option tyres, which showed significant wear quite early in the long runs. By contrast, however, the prime tyre seemed to go forever, with Lewis Hamilton managing to make a set of primes last for just under half a race distance during FP2.
This is what the team had to say after Friday practice:
Nico Rosberg: "It was good to be back on the track here in Shanghai where I have experienced some really good moments in my career. I felt very comfortable in the car and it was a productive day for us, we definitely learnt a lot. We looked good on one lap, but there is some work still to do on the longer runs. Tyre degradation was particularly high on the option tyre out there today. So we need to analyse this and decide what is best to do in the race."
Lewis Hamilton: "We've made a good start today but there is a lot of work to do overnight. The car feels reasonable although I'm still finding myself a little uncomfortable so we made a change for the afternoon session which was a really positive step. I'm hoping that we can continue to improve as I spend more time in the car. The tyres are going to be challenging this weekend, particularly the option compound. Our pace looked good and although I had some traffic on my quick lap, there was enough to give me a good feeling. We'll find out in qualifying where we really are."
Ross Brawn: "We've had a pretty good day here in Shanghai. There were a number of items that we wanted to evaluate and the programme has gone well. The car seems to have a good balance, the feedback from the drivers was positive, and I'm pleased with the race preparation that we have been able to complete. We can see where the challenges are for this weekend and tyre life is certainly going to require some attention. We need to do a good job tonight and then we should be able to have a reasonable final practice and qualifying session tomorrow."
Toto Wolff: "This was a good and productive day without any problems for us. We tested quite a few things during the first session in the morning with positive results. As usual we ran both prime and option tyres in the afternoon and did our normal long runs. Keeping the option tyre from dropping off early is quite a big challenge. It's early days and we are sure that there is more performance that we can extract from our technical package at this circuit."