• Schumacher sets pace with Lewis Hamilton 0.177s slower
• First practice session affected by persistent drizzle
The seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher set the fastest time on the opening day of practice ahead of Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver lapping the Shanghai International Circuit in 1m 35.973s.
The German set his time in the second of the two sessions, the first having been affected by persistent drizzle – a possible portent of conditions for Sunday. Schumacher and his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, have been cleared to continue using a controversial rear wing, which some rivals felt infringed the regulations, after a formal protest from the Lotus team was rejected by FIA stewards on Thursday evening.
Last year’s winner, Lewis Hamilton, was second fastest for McLaren, just 0.177s slower than Schumacher. The Englishman has taken pole position for the opening two races of the campaign, but if he is fastest again in qualifying he will line up only sixth, having been handed a five-position grid penalty in the wake of an unscheduled gearbox swap.
The Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were third and fourth respectively, ahead of Rosberg and Jenson Button in the second McLaren.
If the race proceeds without climatic interruption of the kind that turned the Malaysian Grand Prix on its head three weeks ago, Red Bull and McLaren are expected to resume their duel at the head of the field. So far this season the Mercedes drivers have been fleet of foot over a single lap, but have struggled to maintain that pace in race time because their car has a greater appetite for tyres than most.
Kamui Kobayashi was seventh for Sauber, just ahead of Paul di Resta. The Scot did not run during the morning after handing his car to the Force India reserve, Jules Bianchi, the highly-rated Frenchman who forms part of Ferrari’s young driver development programme. In the second session, Di Resta escaped without damage after spinning at the final corner and recovered to set a time within one second of Schumacher.