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F1 Chinese GP: Stroll leads FP1 as small fire causes early red flag

Aston Martin's Lance Stroll headlined the sole Formula 1 free practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix after a peculiar hour of running.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR24

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The Canadian intervened in the end-of-session series of soft tyre laps to leapfrog Oscar Piastri's effort moments before the chequered flag, which nobody else had enough time to beat.

His surprise appearance at the top of the timesheets rather defined the atypical order locked in at the close of the session, as many teams opted for varying run plans to prepare for the sprint weekend in China.

A series of tentative laps opened the session as the field got its first experience of the Shanghai circuit for the first time in five years; home hero Zhou Guanyu reported that grip levels were low as the new bitumen layer had yet to be fully rubbered in.

The first laps shook out in the 1m40s, although Max Verstappen was tasked with the early stewardship at the top of the order after he took the times below the 100-second barrier and continued to find time on the medium tyre.

The session was then red-flagged after approximately 15 minutes, when a patch of grass at the side of the track in Turn 7 appeared to spontaneously self-immolate - leaving a trail of scorched earth in the immediate vicinity. A spark produced by a car bottoming out was believed to be the culprit.

Running resumed two minutes later when the tiny fire was exhausted, but in a poetic twist it appeared that the majority of drivers' streak of hot laps had also been largely doused by the intermission.

Verstappen's headline effort on the medium tyre was, however, eclipsed by the two soft-shod Ferraris; both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz moved to the top of the order after the pause, shuffling the Red Bulls down a couple of positions.

Sainz had initially got to the headline time through posting a 1m38.382s, before Leclerc put his team-mate in the shade. The Monegasque reeled off a 1m38.130s, and followed it up with a 1m38.090s to press his advantage further.

Zhou Guanyu, Kick Sauber C44, Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber C44

Zhou Guanyu, Kick Sauber C44, Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber C44

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

After a series of continued race runs across the field on the medium and hard tyres, a handful of drivers started to move across the aisle to pick up softs for a series of faster times in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Logan Sargeant began the festivities but subsequently branded his 1m38.317s "terrible", while Williams team-mate Alex Albon then bolted on softs to secure a 1m37.229s.

Sergio Perez went just under a tenth quicker than the Anglo-Thai driver, but this was little more than preamble to Verstappen's return to the top of the order; the Dutch driver bagged a 1m36.660s.

This remained the headliner for about five minutes, but Piastri entered the frame with a strong effort that culminated in him buzzing the timing line with a 1m36.629s.

McLaren team-mate Lando Norris was set to raise the bar higher with a pair of session-best sectors to open the lap, but aborted his effort following hinderance from traffic.

Stroll then snatched top spot from Piastri at the close of the session, logging his 1m36.302s, which pushed the Red Bull pair down to third and fourth positions as the clock finally stopped.

Haas duo Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen were fifth and sixth fastest, ahead of Alpine's Esteban Ocon - who has the French team's sole new floor package for this weekend.

Albon's effort was good enough for eighth, as Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas completed the top 10.

F1 Chinese GP - Practice results:

   
1
 - 
4
   
   
1
 - 
2
   
Cla Driver # Chassis Engine Laps Time Interval km/h
1 Canada L. Stroll Aston Martin Racing 18 Aston Martin Mercedes 21

1'36.302

  203.771
2 Australia O. Piastri McLaren 81 McLaren Mercedes 24

+0.327

1'36.629

0.327 203.081
3 Netherlands M. Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1 Red Bull Red Bull 25

+0.358

1'36.660

0.031 203.016
4 Mexico S. Perez Red Bull Racing 11 Red Bull Red Bull 24

+0.388

1'36.690

0.030 202.953
5 Germany N. Hulkenberg Haas F1 Team 27 Haas Ferrari 23

+0.799

1'37.101

0.411 202.094
6 Denmark K. Magnussen Haas F1 Team 20 Haas Ferrari 23

+0.816

1'37.118

0.017 202.059
7 France E. Ocon Alpine 31 Alpine Renault 23

+0.911

1'37.213

0.095 201.861
8 Thailand A. Albon Williams 23 Williams Mercedes 19

+0.927

1'37.229

0.016 201.828
9 Australia D. Ricciardo RB 3 RB Red Bull 25

+0.936

1'37.238

0.009 201.809
10 Finland V. Bottas Sauber 77 Sauber Ferrari 24

+1.228

1'37.530

0.292 201.205
11 China Z. Guanyu Sauber 24 Sauber Ferrari 24

+1.324

1'37.626

0.096 201.007
12 Japan Y. Tsunoda RB 22 RB Red Bull 27

+1.704

1'38.006

0.380 200.228
13 Monaco C. Leclerc Ferrari 16 Ferrari Ferrari 20

+1.788

1'38.090

0.084 200.057
14 Spain C. Sainz Ferrari 55 Ferrari Ferrari 19

+1.982

1'38.284

0.194 199.662
15 United States L. Sargeant Williams 2 Williams Mercedes 23

+1.984

1'38.286

0.002 199.658
16 United Kingdom L. Norris McLaren 4 McLaren Mercedes 21

+2.328

1'38.630

0.344 198.961
17 United Kingdom G. Russell Mercedes 63 Mercedes Mercedes 21

+2.504

1'38.806

0.176 198.607
18 United Kingdom L. Hamilton Mercedes 44 Mercedes Mercedes 24

+2.537

1'38.839

0.033 198.541
19 Spain F. Alonso Aston Martin Racing 14 Aston Martin Mercedes 22

+2.634

1'38.936

0.097 198.346
20 France P. Gasly Alpine 10 Alpine Renault 21

+3.568

1'39.870

0.934 196.491

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