Hamilton questions whether Mercedes can challenge Ferrari

Lewis Hamilton has already faced setbacks in his 2018 Formula One campaign. Charles Coates  Getty Images

Shanghai: Lewis Hamilton set the pace for Mercedes in free practice on Friday at the Chinese Grand Prix but Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was just a whisker behind as the rival teams headed for another clash in this weekend's race.

Vettel pipped Raikkonen in the closing seconds of Q3 for the second race weekend in a row as Ferrari finished 0.5s ahead of Valtteri Bottas in third.

The winners of the opening 2 races, Ferrari ended day 1's practice session hot on pacesetter Mercedes' heels.

"Maybe we didn't get the tyres absolutely ideal for the lap but I don't think it would have been enough for us to beat the Ferraris", he said.

"There was nothing in the lap we could have gained that much. Ferrari have got a very fast auto and there are millimetres between us." he added.

However, because Pirelli has brought the medium, soft and ultrasoft compounds - it has skipped the supersoft tyre, leaving two steps of difference between the soft and ultrasoft tyres - teams will have to choose either to use the fastest tyre in qualifying and pay for it in the race or to use the slower soft tyre to qualify but benefit from a superior race strategy on Sunday (Apr 15). We've been progressing through the sessions and we've got a good idea. It's the norm. Ferrari are still quite quick and I think Red Bull were really quick on the long run. He nursed his Red Bull back on to the circuit and escaped without damage.

With the top three teams all looking closely matched, Hamilton says he is enjoying having a fight at the front even if he is already 17 points behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel.

"I think Ferrari [will be our biggest rival]", he said.

"When I crossed the line to see the screen and I saw something green which is usually pretty good and a little bit of purple so I'm really pleased".

Meanwhile, as in Bahrain qualifying last Saturday, a Williams propped up the order with the team's tough start of the season not showing an immediate signs of changing in Practice One. In addition to that, it has several technical sections with corner complexes where unique corners, such as T1 and T13, lead straight into further corners requiring a good vehicle balance and precise driving. "The auto, even though it was quick, it wasn't easy to drive at all", the Finn said.

The cool conditions experienced on Friday morning are likely to carry through to FP2 which gets underway at 14:00 local time.

"On paper, this track is easier for overtaking than Bahrain, so hopefully tomorrow we can make up for what we lost today".



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