Felipe Massa shows no signs of easing off on his strong start to 2013, topping the times in second practice for the Chinese Grand Prix and ending day one in Shanghai at the front of the field.
Although it is a well-known fact that Friday's sessions often have little bearing on the rest of the weekend, Massa's time on the softer of the two Bridgestone tyre options lowered the weekend benchmark to 1min 35.340secs, shaving two seconds off Nico Rosberg's FP1 best, and left the Brazilian ahead of Melbourne winner Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso as the field turned its attention to race preparation during the course of the 90-minute session.
While the team's individual programmes remain a mystery, the soft tyre showed that it will not be one for lengthy runs come raceday, even if it is roughly a second faster than its medium counterpart. As a result, the second half of the session was largely devoted to running on the harder rubber, leaving Massa's early mark unchallenged, even though Raikkonen got to within two-tenths. Alonso, despite confirming Ferrari's pace, was 0.415secs behind his team-mate, who could become the first driver to out-qualifying the Spaniard five times in a row if he can repeat his feat on Saturday afternoon.
Rosberg, who led a 1-2 in the opening session, had to settle for fourth spot second time around, but still fared better than team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who was only seventh after struggling with tyres whose behaviour he had never witnessed before. The pair were split not only by 0.6secs but also by Mark Webber and Jenson Button, who squeezed their Red Bull and McLaren into fifth and sixth respectively.
The Australian again out-paced 'team-mate' Sebastian Vettel, who rounded out the top ten after following a different programme that included running the development parts delivered to the Red Bull garage during FP1, while Button gave McLaren further cause for optimism – of a better weekend if not yet race wins – with another top six performance.
The Briton was the Woking team's high point as team-mate Sergio Perez started the session in the same way as he finished the first, planting his MP4-28 in the tyre wall after losing in early in his first run. The damage this time was to the rear of the car, after he had broken its nose earlier on, but the Mexican was able to rejoin the session after repairs, and eventually claimed eleventh spot, just over a tenth off Vettel's best.
Force India duo Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta filled the remaining top ten slots, proving very closely matched, while Romain Grosjean took the second Lotus to twelfth.
Having had time to learn the circuit, Esteban Gutierrez emerged as the best of the Saubers in 13th spot, over a second clear of team-mate Nico Hulkenberg as the German concentrate on racking up the laps. His haul of 32, however, could not compare with the 39 of both Hamilton and STR's Daniel Ricciardo or 35 of Rosberg. Both Mercedes demonstrated good long run pace, as did Massa.
Ricciardo was 14th, one ahead of Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne, with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado sandwiching Hulkenberg in 17th, despite the Finn having to wait before making his entry to the session.
Jules Bianchi was next up, as expected, but there was no opposition from Marussia colleague Max Chilton on this occasion as the Briton was twice sidelined out on track. Chilton completed just five laps in the session, and was unsurprisingly seven seconds off the pace, sitting behind both Caterhams, where Charles Pic returned to join Giedo van der Garde after reserve Ma Qing Hua ran in FP1.