Lewis Hamilton has played up Ferrari's challenge in the Chinese Grand Prix after Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel ended the first day of free practice ahead of Mercedes in Shanghai.

On an indifferent day for championship winning team, Hamilton - who will take a five place grid penalty for the race following a pre-event gearbox change - suffered two spins at turn 11 in FP1 after struggling for balance, before only managing fourth fastest in FP2 as Ferrari stepped up its game.

Ahead of qualifying, Hamilton has played down the suggestion that Mercedes is sandbagging, saying he believes the Ferrari 'numbers' to be real.

"I think the [Ferrari] numbers are real but we shall see. I haven't spoken to the engineers but that's my assumption. Definitely on my side it has been a difficult day, but you have those days in terms of getting the balance. It's quite windy today and Ferrari look quite quick. So we have a race!"

Describing it as the biggest threat Mercedes has faced yet, Hamilton admits Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen could be hard to challenge if he is starting behind.

"It seems that we're going to have a bigger fight than we ever have, so it should be good for the fans. Maybe Nico will be worried. Me, I'm behind them. But for sure it means that it's going to be harder to overtake them so getting in to the top three is going to be hard on Sunday for sure."


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