Lewis Hamilton put Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in his place before the Chinese Grand Prix by dominating Friday’s free practice for Mercedes, as a track invader gave organisers a major fright.
World champion Hamilton, who has won three times in Shanghai including last year, topped the timesheets, clocking a fastest lap of one minute, 37.219 seconds in the afternoon after also flexing his muscles in the morning session.
There was a heart-stopping security scare in the afternoon when a man scaled a fence, ran across the tarmac between the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson and Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India and climbed over the pit wall, before being tackled by officials.
The fan made his way to the Ferrari pit and reportedly shouted “I’ve got a ticket, I want a car!” before being nabbed by stewards and handed over to the police.
Vettel stunned Mercedes pair Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to win in Malaysia two weeks ago but normal service looked to have been resumed in far cooler conditions in China, at least in the early going.
Rosberg was second quickest in the morning but Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen produced a lap of 1.37.662 to finish second in an afternoon run briefly halted by red flags after Felipe Massa’s Williams skidded into a wall.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was third fastest, ahead of Vettel and Rosberg.
Hamilton, who has admitted his drawn-out contract talks over a renewed deal with Mercedes have become a “pain in the backside”, did not look in any way distracted and signalled his intent with a typically aggressive display of pace.
– ‘Ferrari close’ –
“Today was definitely an improvement on Friday in Malaysia,” said the 30-year-old. “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.”
Sparks flew as the Briton roared out with a point to prove and he quickly imposed himself despite an early lock-up into the hairpin which forced him onto the run-off.
However, Rosberg’s lacklustre showing will give heart to improving Ferrari.
Massa scraped his Williams down the wall at the end of the back straight after locking up his brakes, the forlorn-looking Brazilian ferried back to the pits on a moped as the cranes came out to collect his stricken car.
Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat also had a rocky afternoon session, skidding across the gravel and bumping into a wall after complaining of brake failure, although the Russian still posted the sixth fastest time.
Jenson Button was 10th quickest and Fernando Alonso 12th as McLaren made improvements over the two sessions, while Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen survived a couple of hair-raising moments, going 12th fastest in the morning and 14th in his second run-out.
Mercedes won 16 of 19 races last year and turned this season’s opening race in Melbourne into another rout before Vettel upset the Silver Arrows in Sepang to end Ferrari’s 34-race winless streak.
“I feel happy in the car but I think we can improve it for tomorrow,” said four-times world champion Vettel. “It is only the third race of season. The target is that we are right behind Mercedes and as the season goes on we try to get closer and closer.” – Agence France-Presse