Free Practice 1 and 2 have wrapped in Shanghai, ahead of the vital qualifying sessions. It’s a color combination of silver, red, and blue, for the top three with combined times, with the Merceds of Valtteri Bottas, the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, filling the top three in the early runs. The three were separated by just 0.22 of a second.

Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo have received upgraded MGU-K components for their Renaults and Hulkenberg was fourth quickest in the two sessions. Ricciardo wasn’t in the top ten but has declared his confidence in his car is growing. The rest of the top ten in practice is a who’s who of the rest of the field. McLaren and Carlos Sainz for fifth, veteran Kimi Raikkonen and Alfa Romeo in sixth, and rookie Alexander Albon for Toro Rosso in seventh.

Racing Points Lance Stroll, the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, and the Williams with Robert Kubica make up the top ten for the two practice sessions. Notably absent from the list is Lewis Hamilton. FP2 had the Briton in fourth for that session, but Hamilton admits the car’s setup simply isn’t right. “I was struggling with the car today, so we’ve got work to do, particularly on my side as Valtteri looked much more comfortable in the car. We’re going to work hard tonight to find some tweaks and hopefully come back stronger tomorrow; the car has the pace in it to compete at the front, we just need to find the right set-up.”

Ricciardo has had teething problems, to say the least, with his move to Renault. Although still in the early part of his career with the French team, Ricciardo’s chirpy nature shone through when asked about progress so far. “It is coming,” said Ricciardo. “It is there in moments. I’d say this morning was actually better for me. The afternoon less so. For sure when I do feel at one with it, I feel like I can get it going. So we just got that going more consistently. The afternoon we did drop off a bit. Still not really sure why, we didn’t change that much. A beautiful race car so we’ll try and figure it out.”

Free Practice 3 and Thai born Alexander Albon found out just how strong the safety cage is inside a modern F1 car. Coming out of Turn 16 his Toro Rosso ran wide to driver’s right. The lack of adhesion from the rubber on the artificial turf was enough to have his car spin into the barriers and effectively destroying the body work. The safety tethers held on to the four wheels and Albon himself exited the wreck under his own steam. “I’m ok – more angry and disappointed than anything else,” Albon said, “It was a big crash, but it was a silly one as well. But too much AstroTurf, bit too much throttle and just a bit greedy for FP3.”

The shortened session left Mercedes and Ferrari to fight it out for the top positions. Bottas would be the quickest and ahead of the scarlet cars of Vettel and Leclerc. Hamilton would claim fourth ahead of Hulkenberg in FP3.

And it would be the same in qualifying. Bottas topped the time sheets to take pole position but did so just 0.023 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Bottas was quicker than Hamilton across two of the three sessions, and was slower than Hamilton in Q2 by just a tenth. The habitual team lockout of grid positions would continue, with Vettel and Leclerc taking P3 and P4, Red Bull’s Verstappen and Pierre Gasly in P5 and P6 ahead of the Renaults of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg for P7 and P8. Haas continue their improvement with P9 and P10 for Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. Verstappen would later complain that the traffic in the final lap blocked him from gaining an advantage and potentially seeing his name in P3.

Antonio Giovinazzi failed to lodge a time in Q1 and his participation in Sunday’s race is at the good graces of the F1 stewards. The Williams pairing of Robert Kubica and George Russell will start from the erar of the grid, behind Lance Stroll, who seems unable to convert good practice sessions into good qualifying times. P16 is Lando Norris, P15 sees Carlos Sainz who was a near full half second shy of Raikkonen for P13. P12 and P11, the ones some drivers must dread being in as it means they’ve just missed out on Q3, went to Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat.