Chinese GP: Lewis Hamilton excited by Mercedes-Ferrari-Red Bull battle

Lewis Hamilton is excited by how closely matched Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are at the Chinese GP.

Hamilton topped both Friday practice sessions in Shanghai, but only a tenth of a second covered both Mercedes and Ferrari cars in Practice Two, while Red Bull matched their rivals on long-run simulations.

The world champion believes Saturday’s qualifying session, which gets underway at 7am live on Sky F1, will be key given the strategy conundrum facing teams after Pirelli brought the ultrasoft, soft and medium tyres.

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“Ferrari are still quite quick and Red Bull were really quick on the long run. It’s good to see all the times so close,” Hamilton said.

“The car balance is good but we have some work to do on it tonight, just some fine tuning. And I think tomorrow is going to be wet but this is a fun track in the wet.

“With tyres dropping off, position is everything. We want to get as high as possible. I’ve had one pole but I need to get another one and that’s what we’re working towards.

“I texted the guys at the beginning of the week saying ‘we need to make sure we come with our A game this weekend’ and that means every single individual can’t have an off day. Everyone needs to be on it throughout the weekend.”

Vettel: Ferrari have pace to unleash
Sebastian Vettel arrived in China with a 17-point lead over Hamilton at the top of the world championship after winning the opening two grands prix but endured a mixed Friday.

The German was off the pace in the morning session, eight tenths down on Hamilton in sixth place, but was fourth and 0.108s off his title rival in the afternoon.

Vettel conceded he was still trying to find the sweet spot of his SF71-H around the Shanghai International Circuit to deliver its true performance.

“In Australia I struggled, Bahrain I was much happier but here it is not yet where I want to be,” he told Sky F1.

“It is difficult to find the sweet spot but if you do then you can unleash the pace.

“I think the car has the pace but we need to make sure we get it to work. Today was mixed, in the afternoon I was a bit happier but hopefully tomorrow I am very happy.”

Valtteri Bottas sees the Scuderia as Mercedes’ biggest threat, saying: “It seemed extremely close with them again and tomorrow is going to be a close qualifying. Sunday as well.”

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll were some of the drivers to spin out of Friday practice at the Chinese Grand Prix.

Red Bull hint at counter strategy
While Mercedes and Ferrari slugged it out for the fastest times on the Friday timesheets for ultimate pace, Red Bull were more than three tenths adrift – but again left encouraged by the RB14’s pace over the long runs.

The evidence of Friday and the season so far suggests pole position will probably be beyond them in dry conditions, but Daniel Ricciardo has already hinted at the prospect of them playing the strategy card in qualifying by using the soft tyres in Q2 instead of the faster ultrasofts.

By doing that, and provided the team were still fast enough to qualify for Q3, Red Bull would start on the more durable compound and plan a longer first stint than the cars around them which had to start on ultrasofts.

Asked by Sky F1 if they might be one of the teams to try that, Ricciardo replied: “Maybe. We’ll see! It’s still too early to say.

“It’s no secret that a few people are thinking of qualifying on softs, the ultras doesn’t don’t seem to last that long, so you might see a few yellow tyres in P2.”

Ricciardo’s opinion of the ultrasoft compound’s durability was backed up by Bottas, who said: “As expected on this track, the ultra is degrading very quickly so we won’t be seeing long stints in the race.”

Ricciardo was only ninth quickest after struggling with the balance of his RB14 and, although happier with his long-run speed, still wants more performance.

“It’s looking alright,” he added. “We always want to get a bit more. “If we’re just matching [Mercedes] it’s alright but not enough.”

On TV, Online, On Demand and on the go… all the ways you can watch every Formula 1 race weekend on Sky Sports F1 this year How to follow the Chinese GP on Sky F1 Saturday April 14 Sky F1 digital live blog 4am: P3 LIVE! (Build-up 3.45am) 7am: Qualifying LIVE! (Build-up 6am) 8.45am: The F1 Show LIVE! Sunday April 15 Sky F1 digital live blog 5.30am: Pit Lane LIVE 6.30am: On the Grid LIVE! 7.10am: The Chinese GP LIVE!

Will Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari make it three wins in a row or can Mercedes and Red Bull respond in Shanghai? Watch the Chinese GP exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Get Sky Sports F1.