WATCH US IN 2014: Ferrari's Fernando Alonso set the fastest lap during the first practice session of the 2014 Chinese Grand Prix on Friday, April 18 Image: AP
SHANGHAI, China — Ferrari's Fernando Alonso set the pace in the first practice session at the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday, indicating the struggling team could emerge as a challenger to dominant Mercedes in Sunday's race.Alonso set a best time of 1min39.783sec around the Shanghai International Circuit, nearly 0.4 seconds faster than Mercedes' Nico Rosberg in second. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was third, nearly a full second behind Alonso.
Mercedes has won all three races this season, with Lewis Hamilton taking two and Rosberg one. Alonso, meanwhile, has managed no better than a pair of fourth-place finishes.
Hamilton was eighth-fastest in Friday's practice, just ahead of four-time defending World champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull in ninth.
Ferrari has thus far been unable to keep pace with Mercedes following the sport's switch to new V6 turbo hybrid engines.
After Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finished in ninth and 10th place at the 2014 Bahrain GP, respectively, Ferrari abruptly parted ways with team principal Stefano Domenicali, replacing him with Marco Mattiacci, former president of Ferrari North America.
Engineering director Pat Fry also seemed to lower expectations coming into the Chinese GP, saying on Ferrari's website the short-term goal would be to try to be F1's "second-best team."
Raikkonen was unable to set a timed-lap Friday morning due to a problem with his car.
McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen were fourth and sixth, respectively, while Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg was fifth-fastest.
Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso was seventh and Felipe Massa of Williams was 10th.
Heavy smog had hampered visibility at the Shanghai International Circuit on Thursday, but conditions were clear for Friday's practice rounds. Rain and cool temperatures were forecast for Saturday's qualifying session.
Friday's first practice session for Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix:
1. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Scuderia Ferrari 1min39.783,
2. Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1min40.181,
3. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing 1min40.772,
4. Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren Mercedes 1min40.970,
5. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India 1min41.175,
6. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) McLaren Mercedes 1min41.366,
7. Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) Toro Rosso 1min41.505,
8. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1min41.560,
9. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing 1min41.629,
10. Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams 1min41.699,
11. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Toro Rosso 1min41.977,
12. Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus 1min42.090,
14. Giedo van der Garde (NED) Sauber 1min42.615,
15. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India 1min42.733,
16. Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Lotus 1min43.731,
17. Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Caterham 1min44.038,
18. Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber 1min44.162,
19. Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia 1min44.270,
20. Max Chilton (GBR) Marussia 1min44.782,
21. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Caterham 1min44.835,
22. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Scuderia Ferrari (no time)
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2014 Chinese GP this weekend.