Nico Rosberg and Mercedes were the combination to beat in last year's Chinese Grand Prix, and started the 2013 edition in similar fashion by topping the timesheets in opening practice at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The German quickly moved to the head of the field after a typically slow start for all at the seldom-used SIC facility, and his 1min 36.717secs effort ended the 90-minute session comfortably faster than Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who showed no sign of the eye infection that had caused him to shelve media commitments on Thursday as he claimed second spot on the list. Nearly half a second split the two Silver Arrows at the flag, with the rest a similar margin behind the Briton.
Red Bull, the focus of attention for all the wrong reasons in the early part of the weekend, filled the two places immediately behind the Mercedes pair, with Mark Webber claiming an early morale boost by besting 'team-mate' Sebastian Vettel by a couple of tenths. The Australian, obviously, will know how little Friday morning performances mean in the bigger picture of the whole weekend, but will look to build on his start as the fall-out continues at RBR.
Vettel's 1min 37.942secs mark also came under threat from 2012 nemesis Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard rounding out the top five for Ferrari by lapping just 0.023secs slower than the world champion, while Jenson Button gave McLaren some early encouragement by posting a lap of 1min 38.069secs in the reworked MP4-28 for sixth spot. It wasn't all good news for McLaren, however, as team-mate Sergio Perez was not only 1.3secs slower, but also ended his session in the barriers at pit-lane entry – a la Hamilton 2007 – after misjudging his speed while returning after the chequered flag!
Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil both joined Button in briefly topping the times before settling into seventh and eighth spots, while Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta rounded out the top ten, as both Lotus and Force India offered early confirmation that they could be points contenders in China. Kimi Raikkonen was eleventh in the other E21, but was among those to spin early on as the drivers searched for grip on the dusty surface. Many more found themselves running wide, or off course, including pacesetter Rosberg, but there were no damaging incidents until Perez committed his embarrassing faux pas
Toro Rosso backed up Jean-Eric Vergne's Sepang point by mixing it with Williams and Sauber, the Frenchman claiming twelfth spot ahead of Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg and STR team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian ended the session a shade faster than Perez, while the second Williams of rookie Valtteri Bottas also came close to demoting the Mexican. Esteban Gutierrez, the early pacesetter as he set about expanding his knowledge of the Shanghai circuit, wound up 18th as the last of the midfield runners.
As has become the norm in 2013, Jules Bianchi headed the third division, but this time had Marussia team-mate Max Chilton close behind, the Briton using the MR02's latest developments to lap within a tenth. Caterham's Giedo van der Garde was also close behind, while local hero Ma Qing Hua brought up the rear in a one-off appearance, lapping nearly six seconds off the pace – and 1.5secs slower than his team-mate...
As expected, most teams had new parts to try out during the session and, while McLaren led the way in attempting to overturn a frustrating start to the season with an overhaul that included revised exhaust and floor designs, Mercedes and Ferrari both ran new front wings, while Sauber and Force India tried new floors. The Swiss team also had a new rear wing, while Williams brought a raft of developments, including both wings and a new floor. Red Bull, meanwhile is expected to make changes ahead of FP2 after a box of parts appeared in its garage during the morning...