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Stroll sets opening pace in Shanghai


Ahead of the weekend's sole practice session the air temperature is 23 degrees C, while the track temperature is 39 degrees.

Due to the fact that we haven't been here since 2019 and there is only the one practice session updates are sparse, however, saying that Mercedes has a new halo, while Alpine has a new Floor Body, Floor Fences and Floor Edge and Williams a new Halo.

RB has a new Headrest and Haas new Floor Fences Performance, Floor Edge, Coke/Engine Cover, Rear Corner and Mirror.

"For the drivers, the teams and indeed for Pirelli, it's pretty much a matter of starting from scratch, given that the references are very vague," admitted the Italian tyre manufacturer in its preview, and that pretty sums up the situation, and also explains why drivers are not entirely happy about this being a Sprint weekend.

Adding to the fun and games is the fact that a layer of bitumen has been laid around the track, which drivers fear could compromise grip levels, especially if it should rain.

The lights go green and Magnussen leads the way, followed by Ocon, Zhou, Bottas, Stroll and Gasly, with Verstappen out next.

As more rivers head out all three compounds are in use.

Of the first wave Bottas (medium) goes quickest (40.700), but Gasly (soft) crosses the line at 40.679 and Verstappen (medium) 39.497.

All bar the Ferrari pair are on track just 5 minutes into the session.

Perez runs wide at Turn 11.

"Grip is not high, but not too bad," reports Zhou.

As Magnussen improves to 40.485, Stroll goes second (40.084) on his softs, only to be demoted by Bottas, then Ocon, then Alonso who posts a 39.508 on his hards.

Verstappen raises the bar with a 39.110 as teammate Perez posts a 39.159 to go second.

As the Ferrari pair finally head out - both on softs - Hamilton (hards) goes tenth with a 40.630, while teammate Russell has yet to post a time.

A tentative Ferrari pair go 15th (Sainz) and 16th with their opening laps, while Verstappen improves to 38.498.

"There is a fire in the grass at Turn 7," reports Ocon. That is correct, the grass is on fire.

The session is red flagged, which is bad news for all concerned considering that the Shootout follows in a couple of hours.

The session resumes with 41 minutes remaining, the Williams pair leading the way.

Sainz improves to 12th, despite running wide in Turn 10, as teammate Leclerc goes fourth, both still on the red-banded rubber.

Russell (hards) can only manage 41.149 which puts him twentieth.

Battling for position, Hulkenberg runs wide as he attempt to pass Hamilton, the Mercedes driver subsequently having to head down the pitlane after claiming he had been "pushed off" by Piastri.

Hamilton has been noted for crossing the pitlane at entry. He is subsequently shown the black and white flag for failing to follow the race director's instructions, via a vis the pit lane entry.

Meanwhile, a 38.130 sees Leclerc go top, ahead of Sainz (38.282).

At half-time, all 20 drivers are on track.

Norris improves to sixth on the hards while teammate Piastri remains 17th.

Following a "set-up tweak", Russell improves to 12th with a 39.795 on the hards, before improving again to sixth (38.806).

Leclerc consolidates his top spot with a 38.090.

Hamilton and Tsunoda are both uncharacteristically off the pace, as is Ricciardo, and, to a lesser extent, Albon.

Norris improves to fifth (38.630) on the hards, as teammate Piastri improves to 12th, however both drivers appear to be struggling.

Hamilton improves to eighth with a 38.839.

Clearly there are a number of different strategies at work here, both in terms of tyres and fuel loads, all of which makes it difficult to make a call on the pecking order.

Alonso locks up as he enters the pits and is forced to navigate a series of tyre barriers.

Sargeant is the first to focus on a qualifying/shootout sim, the American improving from 20th to 2nd (38.317) on his fresh softs. "That was terrible," he reports, having run wide in Turn 10, as Piastri makes the same mistake as Alonso as he enters the pitlane. Indeed, carrying more speed than the Spaniard he is lucky to avoid the barriers.

Sainz aborts his lap, the Spaniard clearly struggling, as Albon goes quickest with a 37.229.

Perez crosses the line at 37.158, but teammate Verstappen is setting a blistering pace and stops the clock at 36.660.

Local hero Zhou goes fourth with a 37.626, but demoted by Ricciardo and then Bottas.

Tsunoda improves to seventh as Hamilton runs wide in Turn 6.

Piastri goes quickest in S1 as Ocon goes third overall (37.213).

Magnussen goes second (37.118), but is demoted when Piastri crosses the line at 36.629.

Quickest in the first two sectors, Norris aborts his lap, the Briton having been noted for an impeding incident involving Magnussen.

Unseen in all the excitement, Hulkenberg has gone third with a 37.101.

As the clock ticks down Alonso and the Mercedes pair have yet to run the softs.

Quickest in S2, Stroll goes quickest with a 36.302 on the softs.

The session ends... a strange, strange session that poses far more questions than it answers... after all, Stroll quickest, the Haas pair 5th and 6th, the Stakes ahead of the Ferrari and both Mercedes over 2.5s off the pace, along with Alonso.

Stroll is quickest, ahead of Piastri, Verstappen, Perez, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Ocon, Albon, Ricciardo and Bottas.

Zhou is eleventh, ahead of Tsunoda, Leclerc, Sainz, Sargeant, Norris, Russell, Hamilton, Alonso and Gasly.

As we said, strange.

Check out our Friday gallery from Shanghai here.


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