It may have had to play second fiddle to Michael Schumacher on Friday, but McLaren underlined its position as favourite for success in the Chinese Grand Prix by putting both of its cars at the head of the timesheets in Saturday's lone practice session.
Having topped FP1 and then run Schumacher closest of all on Friday afternoon, Lewis Hamilton returned the fastest time of the 60-minute session, determined to hone his car into a contender for pole position despite knowing that a five-place grid penalty is imminent following an overnight gearbox change. The Briton, who did not make a mark on the times until the second half the session eventually became the only man to dip under 1min 36secs, posting a 1min 35.940secs benchmark that marginally bettered Schumacher's Friday best.
With temperatures finally climbing at Shanghai International, albeit only by five degrees ambient and ten on track, the times took a while to match those posted on a chilly opening day, but Hamilton emerged just over a tenth quicker than McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, as the Woking team got the better of its engine supplier at the top of the pile. Button was only 0.063secs shy of joining his countryman in the 1min 35s, but enjoyed a three-tenths advantage over Nico Rosberg, who finally moved ahead of his more experienced team-mate for the first time this weekend.
Both Mercedes drivers took a turn at the head of the field, as did Red Bull's Mark Webber, but the Australian ultimately had to settle for fifth place, nearly seven-tenths off the pace. He was still better off than world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who continued to be puzzled by his RB8 as it languished down in ninth place, behind Pastor Maldonado's Williams and the two Saubers of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi. Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top ten for Lotus after enjoying a more productive day than he had on Friday.
Force India's Nico Hulkenberg ended up splitting the two black-and-gold cars as Force India matched Lotus, but there was a scary incident for team-mate Paul di Resta in the final seconds as his VJM05 snapped violently over the bumps on entry to the final hairpin and looked destined to end its session in the barriers. Fortunately, the Scot saved the moment and returned to the pit-lane with little more than a raised heart-rate.
While team-mate Maldonado enjoyed the heady heights of sixth spot, Bruno Senna had to make do with 14th in the second Williams, albeit only six-tenths off the Venezuelan. The Brazilian was also ahead of both Ferraris, with Fernando Alonso again seeming intent on perfecting the Scuderia's race pace in 15th and the lacklustre Felipe Massa three spots further back, behind both Toro Rossos.
Vitaly Petrov got the better of the Caterham battle, with Timo Glock and Narain Karthikeyan doing likewise at Marussia and HRT. Heikki Kovalainen may have been able to do something about his team-mate, however, had he not broken his front wing in the closing minutes of the session.