Max Verstappen set the fastest lap of opening practice for the Chinese Grand Prix in a session heavily disrupted by red flags.
In damp and cool conditions Verstappen found a gap between two lengthy stoppages to post a best time of 1:50.491 on intermediate tyres, a lap that put him almost 1.6s clear of Williams’ Felipe Massa.
The session got under way at the scheduled time but was halted soon after as weather conditions elsewhere in Shanghai made it impossible for the medical helicopter to land at the hospital designated for the event.
The first red flag period lasted for almost 45 minutes but once the green light appeared at the end of the pit lane the opportunity for teams to get their weekend preparations under way was brief.
With the track still damp most drivers appeared on the blue-banded wet Pirelli tyres before moving quickly to intermediates, with Williams rookie Lance Stroll establishing a benchmark of 1:52.507.
Verstappen thought was quickly into the groove on the green-banded tyres and as the track improved he moved ahead of Stroll with a lap of 1:52.266 before cutting almost two seconds off that time with a lap of 1:50.491. The Dutchman only turned four laps during the session however.
With Massa second and team-mate Stroll anchoring third place for Williams, fourth place in the session went to Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, who in his five laps set a best time 2.349 adrift of former team-mate Verstappen.
Sainz was followed by Haas’ Romain Grosjean and then by Toro Rosso team-mate Daniil Kvyat who was the last man to finish within three seconds of Verstappen.
Fernando Alonso was seventh for McLaren ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas. The top ten order was completed by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, 4.613 behind Verstappen.
With half an hour remaining Nico Hulkenberg spun his Renault into the gravel traps at Turn 3 and by the time his car had been recovered the red flags were being displayed again, as once more the helicopter could not operate. With no let up in the inclement weather conditions in sight, the decision was eventually taken to end the session early.
2017 Chinese Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:50.491 – 4
2 Felipe Massa Williams 1:52.086 1.595s 7
3 Lance Stroll Williams 1:52.507 2.016s 7
4 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:52.840 2.349s 5
5 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:53.039 2.548s 6
6 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:53.314 2.823s 4
7 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:53.520 3.029s 5
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:54.038 3.547s 7
9 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:54.664 4.173s 4
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:55.104 4.613s 8
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:55.608 5.117s 6
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:57.445 6.954s 4
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 2:15.138 24.647s 4
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber 2:15.281 24.790s 4
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault – – 3
16 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari – – 2
17 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari – – 1
18 Esteban Ocon Force India – – 2
19 Sergio Perez Force India – – 3
20 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes – – 2