The first practice session of the Chinese Grand Prix features the same top four finishers as in Malaysia three weeks ago, but not in the same order.
In the opposite of how they finished in Malaysia, Mercedes was comfortably 1-2 with Red Bull 3-4, and in this session Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber ended with the upper hand against World Champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Rosberg dropped in laps at 1:36.904 and with 28 minutes remaining, the fastest time of the session at 1:36.717. The German, the defending race winner and polesitter in China, was the only driver to enter the 1:36 range.
Webber, his back against the wall in the face of the “Multi 21” scandal, ended nearly three tenths up on Vettel, but still 0.941 off the Mercedes pair. Vettel waited until half of the 90-minute session had elapsed before going out, and pitted with 10 minutes remaining for a front wing change.
Behind the top four, Fernando Alonso edged Jenson Button for best of the rest, but each were more than one second off Rosberg’s pace. Felipe Massa clocked in seventh in the second Ferrari.
Completing the top 10 were Adrian Sutil, Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta – Grosjean’s Lotus the meat in a Force India sandwich. Kimi Raikkonen, who failed to score in China a year ago, finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and more than two seconds off Rosberg’s pace.
Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez had minor off-and-ons in the session but nothing terminal. Gutierrez ended 18th, behind the rest of the midfielders, some 3.3 seconds off the pace and 0.7 behind Valtteri Bottas’ Williams a spot ahead of him.
Sergio Perez had a late off in the same spot as where Hamilton did in his inaugural Chinese GP appearance for McLaren in 2007. Perez got stuck in the gravel at pit in (see above video). He ended only 16th.
The Marussia and Caterhams were much further back – 5.2 seconds and change off Rosberg’s times. While Jules Bianchi’s leading the queue doesn’t surprise, Max Chilton got ahead of fellow rookie Giedo van der Garde, and the trio left Caterham’s Friday driver, local boy Ma Qing Hua, in the dust. Ma, who replaced Charles Pic, ended 6.8 seconds off the mark.