Rosberg quickest in problematic opening session

15/04/2016
NEWS STORY

Ahead of today's opening session, the air temperature is 20 degrees C, whilst the track temperature is 32 degrees.

The big news ahead of the session is that Lewis Hamilton will take a five-place grid penalty after Mercedes opted to change the gearbox in his car.

Fernando Alonso has been given the green light to take part in this session but will undergo a further examination afterwards to see if he is fit to continue.

As in Melbourne and Bahrain, the tyre options this weekend are supersoft, soft and medium, with teams expected to adopt some pretty aggressive strategies on Sunday when we could see stops just 4 or 5 laps into the race.

Of the rookies, Rio Haryanto has experience of this circuit having raced here in Formula Renault and Formula BMW.

Whilst the Indonesian youngster might have raced here before, the supersoft rubber hasn't, hence the anticipation over tyre strategy on Sunday.

The lights go green and Vettel leads the way, followed by Raikkonen, Grosjean, Haryanto and Verstappen.

Hamilton is among the early risers, as is Alonso. "Any seat or comfort issues?" the Spaniard is asked. "No, nothing with the seat," comes the reply.

Rosberg is the first driver to post a time (1:39.012), but this is soon beaten by his teammate who crosses the line at 38.802.

Bottas, who has the new front wing this weekend, reports that "all feels good" as he completes a couple of install laps.

Out come the yellow flags as Hamilton spins at T11.

Ericsson is the third driver to post a time, the Swede stopping the clock at 43.251.

"Something has broken on the car," warns Massa as his car spins at T6 after the left-rear tyre comes off the wheel rim. On the pit-wall, Pat Symonds looks mystified, as well he might, following what could have been a nasty incident. Thankfully the car merely slid off the track, if it had somehow dug into the kerb or run-off...

Meanwhile, Wehrlein and Haryanto have posted times, meaning that there are five names on the sheet.

Massa finally gets back to the pits where the investigation gets underway.

Several minutes later the VSC is deployed as debris (from Massa's incident) is removed from the track. That said, the marshals seem a little hesitant in removing the debris.

Indeed, the session is red flagged. With lots of gravel also on the track, this seems a wise move.

As the marshals get to work, the order is: Hamilton, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Wehrlein, Haryanto, Ericsson, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Perez and Verstappen.

The session resumes at 10.32, naturally there is a mad scramble to get back to work. Among them is Bottas so no apparent concerns at Williams.

Vettel had been on track at the time of the red flag, he is now back out again, once again running the soft rubber. Alonso, on the other hand, is the first to switch to supers.

Raikkonen (medium) goes fourth (40.940), whilst Vettel (soft) posts 39.291 and Alonso (supers) 40.538). Moments later, Button, also on supers, posts 39.974 to go fourth.

Hulkenberg (soft) splits the McLaren duo with a 40.169 as Hamilton has another spin at T11. "Something's up," says the Briton, "I keep on having this locking into T11." He pits.

"I have no rear end," complains Raikkonen.

"Puncture damaged the floor," reveals Williams. "Team working fast to fix it & get back on track asap."

Forty minutes in, the teams have to hand back their first set of tyres and as a result there is the traditional lull.

Currently the order is: Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Button, Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, Ricciardo, Bottas and Raikkonen. Magnussen, Gutierrez, Massa and Palmer are the only drivers yet to post a time.

"At the first analysis, Massa's tyre shows no signs of puncture," says Pirelli. "Investigations with Pirelli show no sign of a puncture so the team will investigate the cause of the blow out," adds Williams.

"An electrical issue with the car for Gutierrez has him in the garage for FP1," reveals Haas. "Looking to get him back onto circuit in FP2."

Haryanto (medium) goes thirteenth with a 41.614.

Shortly after, Palmer (soft) posts 41.816 to go fifteenth.

In the Mercedes garage mechanics are working on the front of Hamilton's car.

Masa is back on track, the Brazilian showing no ill-effects from his earlier issue. That said, moments later he has another puncture... same wheel, left-rear. "I need to stop," he says, "I have the same problem." Neither Pat Symonds or Massa's father look impressed.

As the car returns to the pits, it is clear that the damage has been caused by the floor.

Oh dear, the session is red flagged as Magnussen heads back to the pits with an issue with his left-rear tyre. We say 'an issue', in fact the tyre has detonated, leaving rubber all over the track. "Rear suspension broken," reports the Dane. Just prior to that, Magnussen had been warned that he might have a brake problem.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to suffer one left rear tyre failure may be regarded as misfortune, to suffer three...

As the marshals get to work clearing the debris, Pat Symonds and Rob Smedley investigate the rear of Massa's car.

Button is told that in Charlie Whiting's opinion, Magnussen's problem was a debris related car issue and not a tyre issue.

"Investigations on both failures on Williams during FP1 show no sign of puncture," says Pirelli. "Air loss connected to technical trouble..."

"Investigations on Renault still ongoing," adds the Italian tyre manufacturer.

Not for the first time, the most hi-tech sport on earth comes to a halt as men with brooms get to work.

As the clock counts down, and with 11 minutes remaining, it's uncertain whether the session will resume.

A car with a large sweeping mat is circulating around the track but it doesn't appear to be very effective. Far from it.

At which point race control confirms that the session will resume at 11:22. Moments later Hamilton and Rosberg head the queue at the end of the pitlane.

As more and more drivers head out, most appear to be on the soft rubber.

Hamilton goes quickest in S1. As Rosberg goes quickest in S2, Nasr is told "we have a problem, slow down".

Hamilton improves to 38.183 but is eclipsed by his teammate who posts 38.037. The Briton had a particularly bad S2.

Vettel improves with a 38.665 but remains 0.628s off the pace.

A late charge sees Grosjean improves from seventeenth to fourteenth, but there are few other improvements.

Warned of an "engine issue", Rosberg advises that he will use "limp home mode".

There's a late wobble also for Perez. "I'm OK," he advises his team.

Rosberg is quickest, ahead of Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Kvyat, Sainz, Button, Hulkenberg and Verstappen.

Perez is eleventh, ahead of Alonso, Bottas, Grosjean, Ericsson, Haryanto, Palmer, Wehrlein and Nasr, whilst Magnussen, Gutierrez and Massa all failed to post a time.

Check out our Friday gallery, here.

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Published: 15/04/2016
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