Ferrari’s Felipe Massa edged out Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus to set the best time in practice yesterday for the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, with Massa’s teammate Fernando Alonso third-quickest.
A rejuvenated Massa set the pace going into qualifying today with a best lap time of 1 minute, 35.34 seconds, just 0.152 seconds faster than Raikkonen, the Finn who won the first race of the season in Melbourne.
In dry, but hazy conditions, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, winner of the Chinese Grand Prix last year and fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, clocked the fourth-best time in the afternoon session.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber shrugged off his feud with teammate Sebastian Vettel, the world champion, to record the fifth-best time. Vettel, controversial winner in Malaysia last month, was only 10th fastest.
The German, who defied team orders in Sepang to take Webber’s lead and win the race, was 1.451 seconds off Brazilian pace-setter Massa.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner batted away the suggestion that the furor surrounding Vettel had hurt his performance.
“We’ve seen many times that the free-practice times are meaningless,” Horner said.
An upbeat Massa, who had been in danger of losing his spot at Ferrari before a late surge at the end of last season, said: “Our race pace looks competitive.”
“The car is handling well on both types of tire and degradation was not excessive, even if the higher wear-rate of the soft [tire] compared to the medium compound will be an important factor when it comes to choosing the right strategy,” he said.
“I feel confident and hope that the whole weekend can keep moving in this direction,” he added.
His teammate Alonso added: “By the end of the day, the overall feeling is positive. We worked well and on top of that, it’s always great fun driving the Shanghai track, which has some really unique features, such as the first corner.”
“Once again, tires will play a key role in this Grand Prix because of the high level of degradation over a long run. We will have to ensure we pick the right strategy for Sunday, as well as deciding on which of the new parts we tried this morning to fit to the car,” Alonso said.
Jenson Button was sixth-quickest in his clunky McLaren, while his former teammate Lewis Hamilton, second-fastest in the morning in his new Mercedes, struggled to seventh place.
The Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta were eighth and ninth.
McLaren’s Sergio Perez, who crashed in the pit entry after the checkered flag in the first practice, was 11th, with Raikkonen’s Lotus stablemate Romain Grosjean 12th.
Hamilton, who left the circuit early on Thursday because he was unwell, said: “We’ve made a good start today, but there is a lot of work to do overnight. I’m hoping that we can continue to improve as I spend more time in the car. The tires are going to be challenging this weekend, particularly the option compound. Our pace looked good and although I had some traffic on my quick lap, there was enough to give me a good feeling.”
The Chinese Grand Prix, the third race of the new season, is tomorrow.