Hamilton sets a marker in China
BACK ON TOP: ...at least for now. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was fastest in first practice for the Shanghai F1 GP on Friday. Image: AFP
Author: ALAN BALDWIN
SHANGHAI, China - McLaren's Lewis Hamilton laid down a marker in first practice for the Chinese Formula 1 GP early this morning (SA time) by banging in the quickest lap of the session after spending much of the morning in his garage.
The 2008 World champion, 2011's winner here and the only driver to have triumphed twice in Shanghai, completed only seven laps but topped the timing screens with 1min37.106.
His hopes of securing a third pole in three races have already vanished, however, since his team said on Thursday that he would take a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
With a damp start to the session after overnight rain, Hamilton appeared happy to save his tyres in the knowledge that he will need every strategic advantage on Sunday if he is to celebrate his first win of the season.
Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, whose 91st and last career win was at the Shanghai circuit for Ferrari in 2006, were second and third quickest respectively. Rosberg, whose team saw off a protest by rival Lotus on Thursday against its controversial rear wing, was 1.010sec slower than Hamilton.
Mexican Sergio Perez, who took his Sauber to a stunning second place in Malaysia in March, was fourth ahead of Japanese team mate Kamui Kobayashi.
2011 champion team Red Bull had Australian Mark Webber and Germany's double champion Sebastian Vettel sixth and seventh while Ferrari's championship leader Fernando Alonso lapped 11th fastest. Vettel, who has yet to win in 2012 or qualify on the front row after dominating in 2011, was using a different exhaust set-up to Webber.
Force India's French reserve Jules Bianchi made his practice debut, replacing Britain's Paul Di Resta for the session.
Other less familiar Friday names included Finnish reserve Valtteri Bottas (Williams) and Hollander Giedo van der Garde (Caterham).
Times from Friday’s first free practice session for Sunday's 2012 Chinese F1 GP
1 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren 1min37.106
2 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min38.116
3 Michael Schumacher (Germany) Mercedes 1min38.316
4 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Sauber - Ferrari 1min38.584
5 Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber - Ferrari 1min38.911
6 Mark Webber (Australia) RedBull - Renault 1min38.977
7 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) RedBull - Renault 1min39.198
8 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min39.199
9 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso 1min39.748
10 Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso 1min39.768
11 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 1min40.056
12 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 1min40.153
13 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams 1min40.298
14 Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India 1min40.328
15 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams 1min40.540
16 Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) Caterham 1min41.071
17 Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 1min41.204
18 Timo Glock (Germany) Marussia 1min42.330
19 Giedo van der Garde (Netherlands) Caterham 1min42.521
20 Jules Bianchi (France) Force India 1min44.118
21 Pedro de la Rosa (Spain) HRT 1min44.227
22 Charles Pic (France) Marussia 1min44.500
23 Narain Karthikeyan (India) HRT 1min47.204
24 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus 1min50.465