China P2: Schumacher on song
Michael Schumacher saw off the challenges of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel to end the opening day in China on top of the timesheet.
By James Galloway.
Last Updated: 13/04/12 12:03pm
Michael Schumacher served notice of the threat again likely to be posed by Mercedes and its 'double DRS' system in qualifying in China as the German set the fastest Practice 2 time at Shanghai.
Morning pacesetter Lewis Hamilton, though, capped an impressive start to the weekend by taking a close second for McLaren, as World Champion Sebastian Vettel quietly got within 0.2s of the outright pace for Red Bull.
To the relief of the field after a morning disrupted by persistent rain showers, the afternoon's session in Shanghai was dry throughout and gave teams a chance to put the set-up lessons learnt in the three-week break between races into practice on the circuit.
Mercedes, having proved McLaren's biggest threat in qualifying over the first two races only to fall away on Sundays amid tyre problems, have suggested they have found solutions to the W03's Achilles heel, and while answers to that question won't be definitively revealed until Sunday, Schumacher's pace suggested there remains nothing wrong with the car's shorter-run pace.
With the Shanghai International Circuit boasting the second-longest straight on the F1 calendar, it was little surprise to see Mercedes top the circuit's speed trap and Schumacher best soft-tyre lap, set with just over 30 minutes to go in the session, of 1:35.973 was the only one below 96 seconds all day.
Hamilton had been quickly back on the pace at the start of the session, setting the outright pace in the early phase on the medium-compound rubber, and set his best lap on the softs just minutes after Schumacher, the lead McLaren 0.172 adrift of the lead Mercedes.
However, once the field switched to race simulations, it was unsurprisingly the McLaren showing the more consistent times, with Red Bull also faring well having worked hard to improve the RB8's performance in recent weeks.
Having opted to start the weekend with an older configuration exhaust system on his RB8, Vettel got as close in lap-time terms to the top of a Practice timesheet - 0.187s - as he has done all season with team-mate Mark Webber nearly 0.3s back in fourth.
Nico Rosberg took fifth for Mercedes, with Jenson Button completing a rather low-key day in relation to team-mate Hamilton in sixth - although typically his long-run pace later in the session all-but matched the sister McLaren's, the Briton earlier delayed by brake issues.
Seventh went to Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, the Japanese outpacing Force India pair Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, as Malaysian GP winner and surprise championship leader Fernando Alonso was only 10th as Ferrari appeared to focus exclusively on race pace.
With chilly, low-grip conditions catching numerous drivers out throughout the 90 minutes - including di Resta, who spun on the pit straight - Marussia's Timo Glock was involved in a more bizarre incident when he run off the road at the first corner straight into the tyre barrier, his car's nose detaching itself before impact.
The ever under-pressure Felipe Massa was heard complaining over the radio on several occasions of a lack of grip and he ended again ended up in a dispiriting position on the timesheet in the second Ferrari, the Brazilian a full second off Alonso's pace alone in 17th.
Lotus also struggled, with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean 13th and 15th respectively, the latter doing well early on in the session to hold a lurid slide in his E20.