FP1: Mercedes on top in China

Lewis Hamilton has returned Mercedes to the top of the timesheets in comprehensive fashion during first free practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, the defending champion emerging more than 1.1secs ahead of Ferrari.

The series leader struck to the front with little more than 40mins of the opening session remaining around the Shanghai International Circuit, his lap of 1min 39.033secs not only standing firm until the chequered flag, but leaving him more than half a second ahead of Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg had been the initial pacesetter on a 1m40.412s, as Hamilton’s first lap was spoiled when he locked up and ran off-course at the tight Turn 14 hairpin.

It was Rosberg’s turn to go awry on the second outings, though, locking up into Turn 6 and visiting the run-off area.

He managed to improve the benchmark to a 1m39.574s later in that run, but Hamilton outpaced it by half a second as he did a 1m39.033s just after the session’s halfway mark.

That lap kept the world champion on top to the flag, although the Mercedes continued to push on heavier fuel in the final part of the session.

In cold and breezy conditions, countless drivers had minor excursions and the Mercedes pair were among the most frequent transgressors, with Hamilton repeating Rosberg’s Turn 6 error and later skittering sideways off-track at Turn 1 after losing the back end mid-corner.

When Hamilton established himself on top, the Mercedes were nearly two and a half seconds clear of the rest of the field. That margin came down, but even Malaysian GP winner Sebastian Vettel’s best lap for Ferrari was still 1.1s off the pace as he took third.

That lap came in the final seconds of the session, and until that point Vettel had looked set to end up 1.5s down on the leader. Three Ferrari-powered cars chased the Mercedes, with Kimi Raikkonen slotting in behind team-mate Vettel and Felipe Nasr making a late jump to fifth for Sauber.

Renault’s best cars were sixth to eighth – Red Bull duo Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat leading Toro Rosso man Carlos Sainz Jr, who swiftly escaped a spin at Turn 1 in the first part of the session.

The Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa completed the top 10, despite Massa spinning down the run-off at the hairpin on a late run.

Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m39.033s 21
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m39.574s 0.541s 21
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m40.157s 1.124s 18
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m40.661s 1.628s 27
5 Felipe Nasr Sauber/Ferrari 1m41.012s 1.979s 18
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m41.029s 1.996s 21
7 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull/Renault 1m41.097s 2.064s 24
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso/Renault 1m41.112s 2.079s 23
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m41.303s 2.270s 23
10 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m41.304s 2.271s 17
11 Pastor Maldonado Lotus/Mercedes 1m41.335s 2.302s 23
12 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso/Renault 1m41.575s 2.542s 28
13 Jenson Button McLaren/Honda 1m41.845s 2.812s 19
14 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m41.918s 2.885s 24
15 Jolyon Palmer Lotus/Mercedes 1m41.967s 2.934s 25
16 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m42.141s 3.108s 22
17 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Honda 1m42.161s 3.128s 20
18 Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 1m42.184s 3.151s 19
19 Will Stevens Marussia/Ferrari 1m45.379s 6.346s 18
20 Roberto Merhi Marussia/Ferrari 1m46.443s 7.410s 20