The 13-year old Shanghai International Circuit record, set by Michael Schumacher during the track’s inaugural race, was finally broken in qualifying for the 2017 grand prix.
Kimi Raikkonen was the first driver under Schumacher’s 1’32.238 time which, unusually for an outright circuit record, was set in a race rather than a qualifying session. Expect it to stand as the lap record for the race, but the outright track record was destined not to remain in Ferrari hands.
Lewis Hamilton broke it twice more during Q3. By the time he was done the Mercedes W08 had established a new benchmark time of 1’31.678, over half a second quicker than the old record.
To put the scale of progress into perspective, every car which was on the grid for the 2014 race would have been more than 107% slower than today’s pole position time. However wet conditions that year meant the fastest lap time was set during practice.
F1 has a target to be five seconds quicker in qualifying this year compared to the 2015 Spanish Grand Prix. As Shanghai’s circuit is more like the Catalunya track than Melbourne, it might have been expected to see a bigger drop in lap times.
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However that hasn’t happened. In fact the swing compared to last year is a few hundredths less. Could this be explained by the more conservative tyre selection this weekend compared to in Australia? The fact cars are over three-and-a-half seconds quicker compared to 2016 (below) suggests not.
The near-total loss of set-up time all the teams experienced yesterday due to the weather probably goes some way towards explaining why the cars aren’t quite as quick as expected.
Nico Hulkenberg took Renault into Q3 for the first time since they returned as a full factory team. They are the most-improved team compared to 12 months ago, improving their lap time by more than five seconds.
Despite all the doom and gloom around McLaren’s situation, they are not the team who has shown the least progress since last year’s Chinese Grand Prix. Four other teams have made less progress in this time, though surely none of them needed to gain ground as badly as McLaren did.
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