Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher rolled back the years on Friday in his Mercedes as he clocked the fastest time in practice for the Chinese Grand Prix,just ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Formula One attempted to get back to the business of racing in Shanghai after all the talk about Bahrain,with the decorated German setting the pace at a damp and cool Shanghai International Circuit.
Schumacher roared around the 5.45-kilometre (3.4 miles) circuit in one min 35.973sec,as he goes in search of his first pole position and race victory since coming out of retirement in 2010.
The 43-year-old,one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time,demonstrated that the Mercedes’ controversial “F-duct” rear wing — given the all-clear only a day earlier — is perfect for the long Shanghai straights.
Briton’s Hamilton,who topped the time charts in the first practice earlier in the day,which was hampered by light rain,was second to Schumacher,0.172sec off in his McLaren.
Schumacher refused to get carried away,calling it merely a “trouble-free day”.
“As a team,we are a lot stronger in certain areas this season,and we have a much better base to work from,although we are not quite where we want to be with this car,yet but I am confident we will get there,” he said.
“We will now have to look deeper into the data in order to find out where we really are here,but I am looking forward to tomorrow’s qualifying.”
Hamilton,who has incurred a five-place penalty on the grid for a change of gearbox,said he was relishing having to fight his way up the field on race day.
“I always like the challenge of trying to come through (the pack) but it’s incredible at the start of the race,” he said.
“Trying to gain positions while staying out of trouble is always key,but I am looking forward to qualifying tomorrow and hope we can be as high as possible so then the penalty is not too bad. I think we’ll still be in the race.
“The car is looking good,but we’ve got some improvements to do to the balance. But hopefully we will be there or thereabouts.”
Sebastian Vettel,the two-time reigning world champion,was third quickest,followed by Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.
Nico Rosberg,Schumacher’s Mercedes team-mate,was fifth-fastest. Jenson Button was sixth.
“It is tight between the cars. I haven’t seen everything,but I think overall we can be quite happy,” said Vettel,who has admitted to problems with the balance of his car,which is no longer enjoying the domination of recent years.
“If you look at the car,you can see a big difference compared to the set-up we used for Malaysia,but driving it’s hard to say,as I don’t have a comparison to this track.
“It’s cooler here than at the last two races; I felt more comfortable,but we’ll see. It’s tricky to say if we look competitive. McLaren look good in all conditions.”
Championship leader Fernando Alonso,who was victorious in Malaysia,was down in 10th with a relatively lacklustre 1:37.316sec,while his struggling Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa was back in 17th.