SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton edged out Kimi Raikkonen at the top of the timesheets as Ferrari ended the opening day of practice for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix hot on pacesetter Mercedes’ heels.
The Briton lapped the 5.4 km Shanghai International Circuit in one minute, 33.482 seconds in the afternoon session, beating Raikkonen to the top spot by a mere 0.007 seconds.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third and 0.033 seconds off the pace, with Ferrari’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel fourth, 0.108 seconds short of his rival’s best.
The top three finished the afternoon in the same order as they had ended the opening 90 minutes of practice.
“We got through all the laps that we needed and got some good feedback about the car,” said Hamilton after a cold afternoon.
“The balance of the car is good but we have some fine-tuning to do on it tonight. Ferrari were quick and Red Bull looked really fast on the long run.
“It’s good to see all the times so close, but it means that we really need to bring our A game. We need everyone in the team to be on it throughout the weekend because it is a joint effort,” added the Briton.
The best Vettel had managed in the morning had been sixth, 0.862 seconds off Hamilton’s pace.
Hamilton has an impressive record in China and is determined to claw back at least some of his 17-point deficit to Vettel in the overall standings after the German powered to victory in the opening two races in Australia and Bahrain.
The Briton, like Vettel a four times world champion, has won in Shanghai an unprecedented five times.
The lap-times in the second session were a lot closer, however, after Hamilton went comfortably fastest in the morning, raising hopes for a closely-fought race with Red Bull also showing flashes of speed.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fifth quickest in both sessions, closing in to end the day 0.341 seconds off Hamilton’s pace. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was sixth.
“We spent a bit of time during the first session today working on the setup of the car in order to understand it better,” explained Verstappen.
“By the end of the day the pace was looking good and I think we can be happy with the car’s performance.”
Kevin Magnussen was seventh for the U.S.-owned Haas team ahead of the other Renault of Spaniard Carlos Sainz.
Daniel Ricciardo, who was fourth in the first session for Red Bull, couldn’t quite string a clean lap together and finished the day only ninth, ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso who rounded out the top 10.
There was little drama in the session, which was hit by rain in the closing stages.
Stoffel Vandoorne stopped his McLaren out on track with a loose wheel, while a wung mirror fell off the Williams of Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin.
Team-mate Lance Stroll, meanwhile, survived a spin.
The Canadian, having gone slowest in the opening session, continued to prop up the timesheets in the afternoon.
Several other drivers spun or went off the track as they tested the limits, with the cool and blustery conditions catching them out.
Editing by Peter Rutherford/Alan Baldwin
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