Mercedes fired an early warning to rivals Ferrari before the Chinese Grand Prix by dominating Friday’s morning practice, with Lewis Hamilton topping the timesheets in Shanghai.
The world champion clocked a fastest lap of one minute, 39.033 seconds, just over half a second quicker than team-mate Nico Rosberg and 1.124 seconds faster than the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel stunned the dominant Mercedes to win in Malaysia two weeks ago but, as widely expected, normal service looked to have been resumed in far cooler conditions in China.
Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari was fourth quickest, half-a-second off Vettel.
Felipe Nasr crept above the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat to post the fifth fastest time, while struggling McLaren were once again well off the pace.
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Jenson Button clocked 1:41.845 for 13th fastest while Fernando Alonso, whose decision to rejoin McLaren from Ferrari has come under scrutiny given the differing fortunes of the two teams, went 1:42.161 — only 17th on the timesheets.
Sparks flew as Hamilton roared out with a point to prove and the Briton quickly imposed himself after an early lock-up into the hairpin which forced him onto the run-off.
Hamilton skidded off at turn one towards the end of the session to dash hopes of improving his time, but he never looked seriously threatened once he had joined the fray.
Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen had a couple of hair-raising moments, going off at turn 14, but returned the 12th-fastest time of 1:41.575.
Mercedes won 16 of 19 races last year and turned this season’s opening race in Australia into another rout before Vettel upset the Silver Arrows in Sepang to end Ferrari’s 34-race winless streak.
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Red Bull has reverted to its 2014-spec brakes for the Chinese Grand Prix after experiencing problems in Malaysia.
Both Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat struggled with overheating brakes at Sepang, with the problem hampering the pace of both cars.
Looking ahead to what the team has been working on ahead of the race in Shanghai, Ricciardo said the brakes have been changed for last year’s Brembo design.
“We have done quite a bit,” Ricciardo said.
“The main points from Malaysia were we had brake issues, a lot of overheating, so we have reverted back on a few things, even from last year which we knew was more efficient.
“Just because it’s from last year it doesn’t mean it’s not better, so I guess we have taken a step back in that direction, but on top of that we have some aero upgrades, which look promising.
"The team has done quite a lot to rectify some issues and get us further up the grid.”
And Ricciardo is confident of a stronger weekend in Shanghai having noticed clear progress with the Renault power unit since the opening race of the season.
“From Melbourne to Malaysia they made a pretty massive step with drivability and we have a few more software things this weekend, which should give it another pretty significant step on that side.
"I appreciate what everyone is doing to get us back towards the front, so fingers crossed it can be put together in the right way this weekend and if so we can get back into that top five.”
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Lewis Hamilton says he wants to race Ferrari closely in the Chinese Grand Prix, but believes its win in Malaysia has been "blown out of proportion".
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff described Sebastian Vettel's victory as a "wake-up call" for the defending champions, with Nico Rosberg also saying he was surprised by Ferrari's pace.
However, when Hamilton was asked if he agrees with Wolff's analysis, he says he is much more relaxed about Ferrari's challenge.
"I honestly don't [agree], but he is the team boss and you would imagine that is his perspective," Hamilton said.
"For me, you can't get every weekend right, and it wasn't even that much of a disaster of a weekend for us. Apart from the fact we missed a session, but that could happen any time.
"We missed a session, we had no real time to do a set-up and didn't do a long run, so we would have changed things on set-up.
"As a car wasn't on track maybe we could have worked harder to extract more from Nico's car, so there are so many things we could have done better, but it wasn't a big disaster.
"People have definitely blown it out of proportion, and hopefully we will get it right this weekend."
Asked if he prefers having Ferrari in the fight for victory, Hamilton replied: "Absolutely.
"I was actually quite chilled after the race because you can't win them all. Second is still good. It was great to have that competition. I wish we were closer and we didn't have the 10-second gap between us because it could have been a really good race, so hopefully we'll have that here. That would be really cool."
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