Sebastian Vettel kept up his momentum at the front of the field as practice for round three of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix, began less than five days after he claimed victory at Sepang, the German setting the pace by over half a second from Red Bull
Racing team-mate Mark Webber.
Vettel's appearance in P1 contrasted strongly with his lowly position from the corresponding session in Malaysia, where he was restricted to testing RBR's troubled KERS system on hard tyres, and ended Webber's run of table-topping Friday performances after the Australian set the FP1 pace both on home soil and at Sepang. The gap between them bodes well for the championship leader, although much could change between now and the end of the day.
McLaren again led the pursuit of the Red Bulls, this time with Lewis Hamilton
edging team-mate Jenson Button
by a tenth, but the Woking team will be hoping to close a two-second gap in the second 90-minute session. Hamilton set his time early in the session, as McLaren
evaluated its latest exhaust and floor solution, but was unable to join Vettel - who posted a 1min 38.739secs benchmark - and Webber in breaking the 1min 40secs barrier.
Nick Heidfeld was the only other driver to get into the same region as the McLarens, although the Renault
pilot was closely followed by Felipe Massa
(Ferrari) and Sergio Perez (Sauber), with Pastor Maldonado
(Williams) and team-mate Vitaly Petrov another tenth back. Sebastien Buemi
(Toro Rosso) rounded out the top ten, narrowly ahead of Nico Rosberg, while Fernando Alonso, running a Ferrari
with revised aerodynamics, Nico Hulkenberg
(Force India), the surprising Heikki Kovalainen
(Lotus) and Paul di Resta (Force India) completed the next group of five.
Heidfeld, however, was among those to see his session truncated, after finding the barriers, and was joined on the incident list by Maldonado, di Resta - who both spun - Hamilton, who had a couple of offs, Tonio Liuzzi (mechanical) and Luiz Razia (suspension-induced accident).
While the midfield again proved closely matched - everyone from Massa in sixth to Rubens Barrichello
(Williams) in 17th was within a second of each other - Kovalainen's run to 14th and Liuzzi's ability to mix it with the two Virgins suggested that the back of the field may be more competitive this weekend. The Italian benefited from the latest developments to HRT's F111 - which has already received more facelifts than its predecessor managed in a full season - to join Jerome d'Ambrosio and Timo Glock
in the 1min 44secs bracket, while team-mate Narain Karthikeyan was only 0.019secs away from joining them.
To see the FP1 lap times in full, click here