Having turned a troubled opening day at Sepang around to claim a podium finish in the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend, Nick Heidfeld confessed that he hopes a similarly disrupted Friday practice in Shanghai today will prove to be the catalyst for another convincing performance in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.
Both Heidfeld and Lotus Renault GP team-mate Vitaly Petrov evaluated the hard and soft Pirelli tyres taken to China and conducted long runs as the team sought to dial out initial oversteer problems for the German and understeer for the Russian. Although chief engineer Alan Permane described it as 'a fairly typical Friday' on a dirty, dusty track surface, a brace of uncharacteristic spins for 'Quick Nick' did impede preparations a little.
“Today obviously wasn't what we wanted, after I spun off in the first session and then again in the second which were both my fault,” acknowledged the 33-year-old, who nevertheless notably lapped fifth-quickest in FP1 before placing eighth in FP2. “I hope it's a good omen, because in Malaysia we also didn't have many laps on the Friday and then we had a good result.
“Given that I only had five laps in the first session, it was surprising how fast I was – and we were both in the top ten. There's still some more in the car, but the gap is a bit bigger than we would have hoped for. As expected, we achieved quicker lap times when using the softs over the hards, and it was good that we managed to use both.”
Although perhaps not anticipating quite such a front-running weekend for Lotus Renault GP in China as was the case in Australia and Malaysia, Heidfeld does predict that the R31's strong engine will serve it well around the Shanghai International Circuit – but whether that will be enough to secure the Enstone-based outfit a third successive rostrum, he is unsure.
“[Third place at Sepang was] a super result for me and the team,” he reflected. “After two races, we have had two cars on the podium, which shows how much progress the team has made over the winter. My hope is that we can keep up in the development race and have many more results like this during the year – [but] it's too early to say [if the same can be achieved this weekend].
“It really depends on the upgrade packages the other teams bring to China, which might change the pecking order a little bit. We had a good upgrade at Sepang, and our [upgrade] package this weekend in Shanghai is not as big – but I think it's a circuit where our car will go well because we have good top speed, which should pay off down the long back straight.
“It's not a circuit where I've had great memories – but hopefully that will change this year! It's a nice circuit because it's not like the others – there are some unusual corners and a long straight, which is good for overtaking. There was a lot of action in Malaysia, and it's clear the DRS is helping with overtaking. Of course, if you use the wing to overtake somebody, you like it, and if you are overtaken, you don't like it. I've always said that I don't like the idea of artificially improving the racing, but now that we have this rule, we just have to make the best of it.”
Petrov, for his part, covered 16 laps more than Heidfeld during Friday practice in China, lapping ninth-quickest in both sessions and winding up just five hundredths of a second adrift of his team-mate. The young Russian's Malaysian challenge came to a dramatic conclusion when he bounced across the grass and into retirement with a broken steering column not far from home, but returning to the scene of his maiden points finish in F1 last year, he is confident of another eye-catching effort, only this time, for all the right reasons.