Schumacher sets fastest time at China practices

Schumacher sets fastest time at China practices

SHANGHAI - The Associated Press
Schumacher sets fastest time at China practices

German Formula One legend Michael Schumacher drives his Mercedes-AMG car in the second practice of the Chinese Grand Prix. AP photo

Michael Schumacher could be closing in on his first pole position in six years after setting the fastest practice time at the Chinese Grand Prix on April 13.

The Mercedes driver’s time was a tenth of a second faster in the afternoon practice than McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who took back-to-back poles to start the season at the Australian GP and Malaysian GP.

Red Bull teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber had the third- and fourth-fastest times of the session.

Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, has yet to finish on the podium since coming out of retirement in 2010, but this year seems to have a car fast enough to challenge the top drivers.

He was third fastest in qualifying at the Malaysian GP last month - his best qualifying performance since the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix.

“The car handled definitely much better than what we experienced the last three years here,” he said after Friday’s practice. “We’re not yet there where we want to be, but we had a good race.” Mercedes’ new rear wing design has been a source of contention among rival teams this season. Lotus filed a protest on Thursday arguing that the design broke the rules, but it was rejected by race stewards.

Red Bull has also questioned the wing design, despite it being deemed legal by Formula One officials.
The Mercedes design feeds off the Drag Reduction System - an initiative introduced to Formula One in 2011, which allows drivers to open the rear wing to reduce drag and increase straight-line speed. When the Mercedes’ rear wing is opened, it exposes a duct which directs airflow back under the car to increase downforce.

Controversial system

At the heart of the argument is whether the system breaches rules which prevent ducts being operated by the driver. Mercedes says the driver operates the DRS and the ducts are only incidentally exposed.

Schumacher said after the practice session he believes the controversy has been overblown.

“It is a good innovation and I think it should be honored by everybody,” he said. “Although it gets overestimated the worth of it, but it’s good.” Schumacher’s teammate, Nico Rosberg, was fifth fastest in the afternoon session, followed by McLaren’s Jenson Button, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayasi, Force India’s Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

The times were considerably faster in the afternoon compared to the morning practice, when a light mist created slippery conditions and most of the top teams stayed off the track until the final minutes.

Hamilton led the morning session, though his top time was about a second slower than his fastest lap in the afternoon. Rosberg and Schumacher had the second- and third-fastest times in the morning.
Hamilton can start no better than sixth in Sunday’s race after receiving a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.

“If I can try and qualify as high up as possible then we can still be in for a good race,” he said.
While McLaren and Mercedes looked set to duel for the pole Saturday after posting the best practice times, Red Bull believes it will also be in contention after making adjustments to its car following a disappointing Malaysian GP, where Vettel, the defending world champion, finished out of the points.

“If you look at the car, you can see a big difference compared to the set up we used for Malaysia, but driving it’s hard to say, as I don’t have a comparison to this track,” he said.

‘Formula teams happy to go to Bahrain’

SHANGHAI - The Associated Press

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone says next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix is definitely going ahead as planned and all of the teams are “happy” to be going there.

Ecclestone said after meeting with team principals at the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday that he believed Bahrain is peaceful enough to hold the race and that extra safety precautions would not be necessary.

“There’s nothing happening (in Bahrain),” Ecclestone said. “I know people that live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.” His comments followed a statement released earlier in the day by the FIA, the sport’s world governing body, also confirming the race would be held as planned, despite ongoing political instability in the country.

Pressure has been mounting for the race to be postponed or canceled because of ongoing clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in the Persian Gulf island nation. The crackdown has left at least 50 people dead.

Race organizers canceled last year’s event after an uprising by the country’s Shiite majority, who are seeking a greater political voice in the country, led to a harsh crackdown by the Sunni-led government.

Human rights groups criticized the race being reinstated this year, and protesters have recently galvanized supporters by chanting against the F1 in marches and criticizing Ecclestone and F1 drivers on social media websites.
But Ecclestone said he believes the problems in the country shouldn’t affect the race for a second year in a row.
“I’m happy that our position is quite clear. We don’t get involved in politics in a country. We go to a country like we come here,” he said.

“They will sort out their internal problems, I’m quite sure.” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said after the meeting with Ecclestone that the teams have to “trust and respect” the judgment of the FIA. He added his team would not compromise on the safety of its members.

“We take the security of all our employees very carefully and so inevitably, as with other races, sometimes extra precautions are taken and we’ll do our best to ensure that all our guys and girls are in a secure environment,” he said. “But I don’t doubt that for a moment. The statement from the FIA is clear.”