Ferrari has the pace to take on Mercedes in Shanghai

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 Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel takes a corner during the first practice session for the F1 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai yesterday. Ferrari set the fastest times in practice yesterday.

Ferrari showed it has the speed to challenge Mercedes in the Chinese Grand Prix, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel setting the two fastest times in practice yesterday.

Raikkonen had the quickest lap time, a tenth of a second ahead of Vettel. The Mercedes cars were just behind the Ferrari pair, with Nico Rosberg third and Lewis Hamilton fourth, both within half a second of Raikkonen.

Ferrari also demonstrated in the first two F1 grands prix that it had the race pace, if not the qualifying speed, to compete with Mercedes, but suffered engine failures in both races.

Vettel said upon arriving in Shanghai that he believed Ferrari’s early season technical issues were behind it and the team had made enough progress over the winter to vie for the constructors’ championship.

He sounded upbeat yesterday but cautioned against getting too excited. Ferrari also finished 1-2 in the final practice at the Bahrain GP two weeks ago before Hamilton took the pole and Rosberg won the race — his second victory of the season.

“Friday’s not that important in terms of position, it’s more in terms of feel,” Vettel said. “We can still improve, especially the balance of the car.”

Raikkonen was even less pleased with the feel, saying he got decent laps only with the super-soft tires.

“It has been quite a difficult day overall,” he said. “I was struggling to get the grip on the tires probably due to the wind. I was sliding a lot.”

Ferrari will have another slight advantage in tomorrow’s race after Hamilton, the world champion and two-time defending champion in Shanghai, received a five-place grid penalty for an early gearbox change.

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo had the fifth fastest time of the afternoon practice session, followed by Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, Force India’s Sergio Perez, and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.

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