RACE DEBRIEF

    Could it get any closer? After 90 minutes of second practice in Shanghai, just 0.007s separated Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton from Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen. And their respective team mates Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel were right on their tails, as just 0.108s covered all four drivers.

    In cool, overcast conditions, the forecast rain held off until the closing few minutes, allowing the drivers to pump in the laps. And the early ones on the quickest, ultrasoft tyres – before the focus switched to long runs – showed us just how tight things are between the leading teams.

    Red Bull were right there too, with Max Verstappen just 0.3s off the pace in fifth. Renault again had both cars well up the order, courtesy of Nico Hulkenberg in sixth and Carlos Sainz in eighth, split by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso completed the top ten.

    As in FP1, grip was at a premium and Hamilton and Raikkonen were among those to run off track as they explored the limits. And there were full-on spins for Williams’ Lance Stroll and Haas’s Romain Grosjean.

    The heavens opened in the final ten minutes, effectively ending the session, though several drivers – Force India’s Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Alonso – did head back out on intermediate tyres to get a taste of the damp conditions.

    The only man to see his session end early was Stoffel Vandoorne, who had to pull his McLaren over with a suspected loose right-rear wheel after a pit stop. Stewards later fined the team €5,000 for releasing the car in an unsafe state.

    So after fears following FP1 that Mercedes might have a clear edge here, FP2 proved quite the opposite, with the world champions and Ferrari all but inseparable, both in terms of long-run pace and single-lap speed.

    Qualifying could be quite a tense affair...

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