Michael Schumacher may have set the fastest time of the day at Shanghai International Circuit, but his success only served to underline Mercedes' qualifying potential as others showed better performance on race simulation runs.
The German quickly surpassed Lewis Hamilton's FP1 benchmark as the field took to a dry track after a couple of hours' break, moving seamlessly into the 1min 36s and remaining at the head of times for almost the entire session, before eventually banging in a 1min 35.973secs best to cement his position at the top of the pile. Schumacher, who has out-qualified Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg twice in as many attempts this year, was the only driver to break 1min 36secs in the 90-minute session, and enjoyed a gap nearing two-tenths over his nearest pursuer.
That man turned out to be Hamilton, who improved his own best by a full second in the improved conditions, but then decided to park up with the session nearing its end after suffering a lock-up into the final hairpin. While he was not alone in spoiling a set of tyres, the Briton also knew the full potential of his McLaren after setting competitive times over longer runs designed to simulate race performance. Both Hamilton, who set the early FP2 pace, and team-mate Jenson Button posted the most consistent longer runs, suggesting that they remained favourites for success on Sunday, but Schumacher will have been encouraged by what appeared to be a better performance from the W03 in race trim. Button, who lost time early on as mechanics tended to a brake issue, ended the session in sixth spot, complaining about locking up his front wheels, while Rosberg finished one place better off.
Between the two Mercedes-McLaren combinations were the two Red Bulls, with Sebastian Vettel, using the RB8's original exhaust set-up clocking the third-best time and finishing the day just 0.015secs shy of Hamilton. Team-mate Mark Webber was a couple of tenths worse off, but still comfortably clear of Rosberg, while Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, Force India pair Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, and Malaysian GP winner Fernando Alonso rounded out the top ten.
Tyre locking proved to be a major issue for a number of drivers, with Alonso's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa among them. While the Brazilian languished down in 17th spot - behind the likes of Williams and Toro Rosso - various reasons for the spate of smoke-inducing moments were propounded, including the chilly temperatures, the bump heading into the hairpin and a general lack of grip. Elsewhere, Lotus duo Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were prevented from carrying out more running as the team decided to try and get to the bottom of issues with the E20 in the garage rather than waste time on cold weather running. The pair wound up 13th and 15th respectively.
Bringing up the rear was Narain Karthikeyan, the Indian four-tenth off Marussia's hard-trying Charles Pic in his HRT. Team-mate Pedro de la Rosa was 22nd fastest, seven-tenths shy of the other Marussia of Timo Glock, the only driver to suffer a major incident after running off at turn one and losing his front wing en route
to a meeting with the tyre barrier. Despite complaining of pain in his left hand, the German was discharged from the medical centre with no last effects and will be back in the car for FP3 and qualifying on Saturday.