Three weeks may have passed since the last Formula One Grand Prix, in Malaysia, but the prevailing topic of conversation in and around the paddock has not yet moved on ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend.
Sebastian Vettel’s win in Sepang has been dramatically overshadowed by his decision to go against team orders and overtake Red Bull teammate Mark Webber in the closing stages before claiming the checkered flag.
The fallout from that controversy remains in full swing.
Webber is understandably unimpressed with Vettel’s move, especially after previously accusing Red Bull of favoring the German. And Vettel, while saying that he apologized to the team, does not regret his actions.
"Had I understood the message, then I think I would have thought about it, reflected on what it means, what the team wants me to do, to leave Mark in first place and me finishing second,” he explained, according to Reuters.” And I think I would have thought about it and probably done the same thing because Mark doesn't deserve that."
The situation threatens to undermine Red Bull’s challenge for a fourth straight constructors’ title. Ahead of the action in China this weekend, though, team principal Christian states that he doesn’t believe that he has lost control of his drivers.
"Is my leadership undermined? I don't think so,” he said, reports Reuters.
It’s a fair bet that Webber will be desperate to qualify ahead of Vettel in Shanghai on Saturday.
When action did get underway on the Shanghai International Circuit for Friday’s practice, it appeared that the battle will be even closer between the top four teams Red Bull, Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari.
Felipe Massa set the fastest time in the second session, with his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso third sandwiching the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen.
Ferrari are running upgrades in China, and Massa, who is looking to out-qualify his teammate for a fifth successive race, is in confident mood for the weekend ahead.
“Today, I immediately had a good feeling in the car and even if, at the start, I was not completely happy with the performance of the medium [tire] compound and we were not as quick as our rivals, the times were good all the same,” he said, according to Formula1.com.
The Mercedes also looked good in practice, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton recording a one-two in the morning and coming in fourth and seventh, respectively, in the afternoon.
Rosberg claimed his only race win in Shanghai last year and is enjoying the return to positive surroundings.
"It was good to be back on the track here in Shanghai where I have experienced some really good moments in my career,” he said. “I felt very comfortable in the car and it was a productive day for us, we definitely learnt a lot.”
McLaren are also running upgrades in China to try and improve on their poor early-season pace and there appeared some improvement as Jenson Button recorded the sixth fastest time in the afternoon.
AS for Webber and Vettel, they were fifth and tenth, respectively, in the afternoon, but will expect to be closer to the front of the grid on Saturday in what looks set to be another engaging qualifying session.
Where to watch: Qualifying for the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix will get underway at 2 a.m. ET on Saturday morning. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBCSports.com.