Sebastian Vettel continued with his strong start to the season by topping the times in the opening practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix. The championship leader, the winner of the first two races of the season, was the only man to lap the Shanghai circuit in less than 99 seconds, going fastest with a 1m38.739s.
Red Bull teammate Mark Webber completed a solid start to the weekend for the team, the Australian finishing in second, albeit over half a second behind Vettel.
The McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were third and fourth, but a massive two seconds behind the World Champion. Button had KERS issues during the session, the Briton's engineer reporting the system was overheating about the one-hour mark.
Nick Heidfeld completed the top five ahead of Felipe Massa in the fastest of the Ferraris. Heidfeld, however, endured a disappointing opening session, the German crashing his Renault at Turn 10 with less than 30 minutes remaining after losing control of his car when bouncing off the curbs. The car suffered damaged to the front and Heidfeld was unable to continue after just five laps.
Ferrari was carrying out a set of aerodynamic tests, with Fernando Alonso, who completed his first timed lap with less than 20 minutes to go, carrying out constant velocity runs and the Italian cars carrying "flo-viz" paint on their front wings. The Spanish driver was down in 12th.
The first session of the weekend, on a circuit covered by smog, had the usual slow start, with most drivers taking to the track to complete installation laps only.
Narain Karthikeyan was the first man to set a time, the Hispania driver completing the first full lap some 20 minutes into the session. He was quickly outpaced by Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, the Japanese going three seconds quicker in his first attempt.
McLaren's drivers Button and Hamilton were next to move to the top of the times, with the latter being the first man to lap in the 1m41s bracket. His teammate was quick to better that and take the place with a lap of 1m41.092s.
Hamilton moved into the 1m40s after that, but it was Webber who went quickest just moments later, the Australian's 1m40.692s lap enough to outpace his rival by two tenths. He then made a further improvement, by over sixth tenths of a second, to leave himself on the verge of the 1m39s.
Vettel shot to the top of times after some 45 minutes, the World Champion breaking the 100-second barrier with a 1m39.540s. With 35 minutes left, the Red Bull driver made a massive improvement, shedding eight tenths from his best time. Webber closed the gap a few minutes later, but still over half a second of Vettel's pace.
Luiz Razia was back at the wheel of the Lotus car, replacing Italian Jarno Trulli for the opening session of the weekend. The Brazilian, however, did not enjoy a trouble-free run, damaging his car's front wing and right front tire at the 40-minute mark, leaving Trulli unimpressed, the Italian gesticulating on television after the incident.
Force India's Paul di Resta was also in trouble when he spun his car with some 25 minutes left. Fortunately for him, he didn't hit anything and managed to continue.
Another man to have a low-key start to the weekend was Timo Glock, who spent the majority of the session in his Virgin garage, setting a time for the first time with less than 10 minutes left.
Rookie Pastor Maldonado finished his day some 12 minutes ahead of time after spinning his Williams at Turn 5, his car stopping on top of the curbs.
Tonio Liuzzi also stopped on track at the end of the session with some sort of mechanical problem in his Hispania car.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m38.739s 23
2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m39.354s + 0.615 27
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m40.845s + 2.106 21
4. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m40.940s + 2.201 22
5. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m40.987s + 2.248 5
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m41.046s + 2.307 25
7. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.189s + 2.450 20
8. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m41.222s + 2.483 20
9. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m41.231s + 2.492 16
10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.328s + 2.589 21
11. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m41.361s + 2.622 23
12. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m41.434s + 2.695 15
13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m41.494s + 2.755 20
14. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m41.579s + 2.840 13
15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m41.610s + 2.871 18
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.752s + 3.013 20
17. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m41.939s + 3.200 25
18. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m42.301s + 3.562 23
19. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m43.792s + 5.053 20
20. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m44.089s + 5.350 20
21. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m44.359s + 5.620 18
22. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m44.438s + 5.699 11
23. Luiz Razia Lotus-Renault 1m44.542s + 5.803 9
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m45.019s + 6.280 23
All Timing Unofficial