Ahead of a race in which he could be crowned 2008 Formula 1 World Drivers' Champion, Lewis Hamilton claims he has been given 'extra-confidence' by comfortably pacing both practice sessions.

The McLaren-Mercedes star arrived in Shanghai for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix five points clear of Ferrari rival Felipe Massa in the see-saw title battle, and in answer to those critics who had questioned his mental state following his critical first corner error at Fuji five days ago - and at the scene of arguably his biggest mistake of his rookie campaign in the top flight last year, what ultimately led to him narrowly missing out on the laurels at season's end - he responded in imperious fashion.

Four tenths clear of any of his rivals in the morning running, and almost three tenths to the good in the afternoon, no one was able to touch Hamilton throughout the opening day around the Shanghai International Circuit - least of all team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who would up almost half a second shy of the Briton at the close of play.

"From the moment we hit the track this morning, the car felt well-balanced and positive," Hamilton related. "That really allowed me to get into my day's programme without any problems.

"No matter what we changed on the car, it just kept getting better and better and the grip and balance kept improving. This is the best possible way to kick off any weekend and has given me extra confidence for the next few days. I feel in a very good place right now."

"The circuit felt surprisingly dirty and dusty this morning," added Kovalainen, fourth-quickest early on and separated from the sister Silver Arrow by the Ferrari duo of Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, "but everything went well in both sessions.

"We were immediately quick - which is always encouraging - and spent both sessions just working on the balance of the car. I'm fully focused on the job ahead of us in the next two races, and today shows that we have started well. I'm looking forward to the rest of the weekend and feel positive we can achieve another good result."

The rain forecast for race day could play into McLaren's hands, and the Woking-based outfit certainly needs to claw back ground in the constructors' chase, having conceded eight points to Ferrari in Japan. Team principal Ron Dennis is optimistic the team has got off on an encouraging footing - particularly as, he explained, neither driver had even been chasing a fast lap time.

"A promising start to our weekend in China," the 61-year-old underlined. "As usual, we spent both sessions focusing on our race set-up, sacrificing ultimate single-lap speed in the pursuit of good balance and tyre-wear over a long run.

"Both Lewis and Heikki reported that they were happy with their cars and, while it is still difficult to tell at this early stage, we feel happy with our pace relative to the opposition."

"A good start for Lewis this weekend," agreed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "The comparison between prime and option tyres worked well and the team saw encouraging results. Lewis' lap times were not only good, but also consistent on both compounds.

"Heikki is still not totally happy with his car - something his lap times reflect - but I am sure he and his engineers will be much better off after going through the data this evening. These were two good Friday sessions with lots of laps for us, however things can quickly change and look different tomorrow; we certainly do not feel like having the job for the weekend already done."


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