Free practice one for the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix has finished and all eyes are on Williams-Martini Racing and Pirelli, as Brazilian driver Felipe Massa suffered two left-rear tyre failures during the session. So far neither Pirelli nor Williams have identified the problem.
The session started with 20 degree heat surrounding the circuit which is relatively uncommon for Shanghai. However that is set to change for tomorrow, as a thunderstorm is forecast with a 90% chance of rain. With FP3 and qualifying likely to be under intermediate or wet conditions, the track was very busy during the first practice session, as most teams tried to complete long distance runs early.
But that was an upward battle with two major stoppages in the session: the first coming for Felipe Massa and his tyre deflation on the entry to turn six, spinning him out and sending him for a trip through the gravel. The tyre appeared to come off the rim and deflate, rather than a spontaneous puncture. Luckily his car was in good enough condition to limp back to the pits.
After initially deploying the virtual safety car, the session was red flagged so that the marshals could rake the gravel off of the track and remove the debris. Pirelli will look into the incident and have released a Tweet during the session saying:
— Pirelli Motorsport (@pirellisport) April 15, 2016
Massa’s luck didn’t get much better, as with 33 minutes to go he received another puncture when he went back out on softs. It again appeared to be a slower puncture versus a high speed blow out. It is unclear if the problem is Pirelli’s or Williams’. It is thought that it could be a problem with the floor of the car coming in contact with the tyre. The Williams F1 Team Tweeted after the incident:
— WILLIAMS RACING (@WilliamsRacing) April 15, 2016
To make matters worse, just minutes later Renault’s Kevin Magnussen had a high speed blowout on the back straight, causing damage to his rear wing. This has placed immense pressure on Pirelli, as Magnussen became the third puncture victim in one session. The session was red flagged for the second time with a half hour to go, whilst marshals cleared debris from Magnussen’s blow out.
All three incidents of tyre failure occurred on the left-rear tyre. It is still unclear whether Magnussen and Massa’s incidents are related.
All of the stoppages caused by the issues with the tyres did take away from the actual running and the most significant event on track was Lewis Hamilton’s two almost identical spins at turn 11. The first spin came near the start of the session on his medium tyre run and the second spin came after the first red flag in the session. Despite the issues, Hamilton did manage to edge out Nico Rosberg in the initial timings early on, beating his teammate by 0.210 seconds.
Hamilton has had a difficult start to the weekend as he received a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change for damage from the Bahrain Grand Prix. Hamilton can only start as high as sixth for the race on Sunday. With him spinning his car in FP1, it only gives more confidence to Rosberg heading into the race.
When all the tyre debacles were over there was only eight minutes left in the session, but more than enough time for laps to be set. Rosberg managed to edge out his teammate by a tenth of a second, after Hamilton led for most of the session. On his in lap, Rosberg limped slowly home after a suspected engine issue. It is unclear whether or not the issue is serious.
These incidents and multiple red flags means that running for many drivers were severely limited. With a rain forecast for FP3, FP2 will be a very busy session as teams will try and make up for the lost running. FP2 gets underway 2pm local time at the Shanghai International Circuit and we should hopefully see better and more representative running.