Sebastian Vettel appeared to be favourite for pole in China after topping the morning free practice session, but as in Australia the German had to settle for second place on the grid.
Vettel admitted that he had perhaps been a little too cautious at the end of the lap, but he still did enough to beat Valtteri Bottas by just a thousandth of a second.
“It was a nice session, I enjoyed it a lot,” said Vettel. “I think if we could have been a bit quicker at the end I would have enjoyed it a bit more. I think I was very happy with the lap I had. Last corner maybe I lost a little bit – maybe I ‘chickened’ onto the brakes a bit too soon. Obviously it was very close with Valtteri, good job we got just enough margin to make it to the front row.
“I think our car is strong no matter what. It obviously depends what these guys are doing. Certainly we’ve seen also in the previous years that in quali they seem to be able to really get on top of what they have. I think we can still improve. Let’s see what the race looks like tomorrow. The conditions will be quite different. Maybe we should put fuel in the car and race now.”
Vettel said he’s enjoying being back in the hunt for victory after a frustrating 2016.
“Obviously it’s a lot of fun when you fight for poles and wins. Certainly enjoyed Australia a lot, despite the outcome on Sunday which obviously was fantastic – but in general, to be able to fight at the front for the podium, and really fight for it is a great feeling.
“We didn’t really have much expectation because it’s a completely different track but on the hand we did know that our car is working well. So, just need to keep it up. Need to try to improve it whenever we can. So overall, I can only give it back, and hopefully there’s a lot more for the rest of the season. But this is only race two. A lot of things can happen but we need to obviously give everything we have to stay there.”
The Malaysian GP will be dropped from the 2018 calendar in a joint decision by F1 and Sepang International Circuit.
First held in 1999 and subsidised by the government, the race has long struggled to get a full crowd and break even.
As previously announced the French GP returns to the calendar next year, while Hockenheim’s ongoing contract – which only covers even-numbered years – means that the German GP will bring the schedule up to 21 races.
“It’s always sad to say goodbye to a member of the Formula 1 family,” said F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches. “Over nearly two decades, the Malaysian Formula 1 fans have proven themselves to be some of the sport’s most passionate supporters.
“As we said in Melbourne, we have big plans for bringing our global fan base closer to the sport than ever before, providing an enhanced digital experience and creating new events. We’re looking forward to talking more about these plans as the season progresses.
“We will have 21 exciting events to look forward to in the 2018 calendar, with the additions of the French and German races.”
Antonio Giovinazzi will stand in for Pascal Wehrlein for the rest of the weekend after the German admitted he didn’t feel fit enough to do a race distance.
Ferrari third driver Giovinazzi will thus get a chance to make his F1 debut after testing for the Swiss team in Barcelona.
Ferrari proteges Giovinazzi and Charles Leclerc have both been linked with FP1 running for Sauber and Haas, with the Sauber reserve role obviously of interest to the Monagasque driver given the potential problems for Wehrlein.
Wehrlein said: “My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team.”
Team boss Monisha Kaltenborn added: “We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned.”
Williams has finally confirmed the arrival of Paddy Lowe as chief technical officer, weeks after his departure from Mercedes was confirmed.
As expected Lowe not only takes charge of the engineering operation but also joins the board and takes a shareholding, which presumably explains why finalising the deal was not the work of a moment.
Lowe’s first job in F1 was with Williams. He joined in 1987 and was a key player in the active programme before leaving for McLaren in 1993.
“I‘ve always had a deep respect for Williams – my first team in Formula One,” said Lowe. “It is a huge honour to return in this leadership position and to have the opportunity to become a shareholder. I am extremely motivated to play my part in bringing success back to the team.
“The vision for the future set out by the Williams Board is powerful and has compelled me to join an organisation committed to building on its unique legacy and to reaching the pinnacle of Formula One once again. I’m looking forward to this exciting new phase to my career working with Claire, Mike and Nick and with the rest of this great team – especially Frank himself, who is one of the most committed “racers” I know!”
Claire Williams added: “Having someone of Paddy’s calibre and engineering competence is not only a morale boost for everyone at Williams, but I know it will also significantly support our efforts to return this team back to the front of the grid.
“Our ambitions at Williams are unwavering, we want to win races and championships, but to do that you need the best talent in the business. In Paddy we believe we have just that as well as a leader who will drive change. This is a game changer for us and once again makes us extremely excited about this team’s future.”
Haas has revealed the first official images of its new VF17 – the day after the car was snapped undertaking filming duties at Barcelona in the hands of Romain Grosjean.
Haas has faced the double challenge this year of creating its second car without the lead time associated with its debut model, while at the same time coping with a big package of rule changes. The team colours of black, grey, red and white remain the same, but the design used has also changed substantially.
“I think the pedal box is the same, but all the rest is very different from last year’s car,” said team principal Guenther Steiner, team principal. “You always try to make a faster car, which is normally a lighter car. Now we can put on more ballast and get better weight distribution. The aero is completely new, as are the tires, so we needed to have some built-in adjustability.
“Aesthetically, the car has a more aggressive look. It’s lighter and more aerodynamically efficient. Everything we learned from our first car has been applied to our new car.”
Williams has released the first pictures of the real FW40 after showing computer generated renders last week.
The car features a spectacular shark fin that incorporates the Martini livery, but otherwise is largely similar to the earlier images.
Felipe Massa will give the car its first laps at Barcelona on Monday before Lance Stroll takes over.
Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso will be the last teams to show their 2017 contenders, all of which are due to be revealed on Sunday.
Ferrari revealed its 2017 contender at its Maranello base this morning, prior the car’s first shakedown and filming run at the Fiorano test track.
Known as project 668 internally, the car has been given the type number SF70H, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Italian marque’s first car.
Following the departure of James Allison last year the new design team has been led by chief technical officer Mattia Binotto. The new model will thus be a test of the ability of the staff that Allison left behind, the team having chosen not to headhunt a major name from outside.
The car features a dramatic shark fin and a small ‘T-wing’, as seen on the Mercedes yesterday.