Jenson Button set the early pace for McLaren in first practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, but it was Sebastien Buemi who ended the session counting his blessings after surviving one of the most bizarre accidents in recent Formula 1 history.
With 75 minutes of the session gone, the Swiss driver crashed at the end of the Shanghai circuit's long back straight when his front suspension appeared to shatter in the braking zone and both his front wheels simultaneously flew off his Scuderia Toro Rosso car.
Buemi's machine then tobogganed off into the gravel trap where it came to rest, having unsurprisingly caused a red flag period.
STR sensibly kept Jaime Alguersuari's sister car in the garage for the rest of FP1 as the team began its investigation into the incident.
Button's time of 1m36.677sec was set halfway through the 90 minutes as the Australian Grand Prix winner took full advantage of the extra straightline speed afforded to him by his McLaren F-duct. For a while it was a McLaren 1-2 at the top of the order, with Lewis Hamilton two tenths behind until Nico Rosberg split the pair with his Mercedes to lap just 0.071sec slower than Button prior to Buemi's shunt. Hamilton eventually ended up third, having improved his time to a 1m36.775sec.
Michael Schumacher was fourth fastest after setting his time when the track re-opened to move ahead of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull. Vitaly Petrov just missed out on sixth position as the checkered flag came out when his Renault teammate Robert Kubica stole his thunder with a 1m37.601sec. Mark Webber was eighth fastest ahead of Adrian Sutil and Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
The only other significant incident in the session happened when former championship leader Fernando Alonso pulled off the circuit on the exit of Turn 6 with what appeared to be another engine failure – flames licking from the exhaust ports on the Ferrari. The Spaniard had yet to set a time in the session.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.677 15
2. Rosberg Mercedes 1:36.748 +0.071 17
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.775 +0.098 19
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:37.509 +0.832 14
5. Kubica Renault 1:37.601 +0.924 20
6. Petrov Renault 1:37.716 +1.039 17
7. Schumacher Mercedes 1:37.745 +1.068 25
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:37.980 +1.303 17
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:38.008 +1.331 13
10. Massa Ferrari 1:38.098 +1.421 19
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:38.161 +1.484 19
12. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.375 +1.698 21
13. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.421 +1.744 19
14. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:38.569 +1.892 20
15. di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:38.618 +1.941 26
16. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:38.678 +2.001 17
17. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:39.939 +3.262 5
18. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:41.531 +4.854 22
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:41.779 +5.102 23
20. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:41.830 +5.153 20
21. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:42.181 +5.504 27
22. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:43.875 +7.198 23
23. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:43.949 +7.272 20
24. Alonso Ferrari no time 6
All Timing Unofficial