Schumacher puts Mercedes on top in China
SHANGHAI, April 13 — Michael Schumacher returned to the scene of his 91st and last Formula One victory today to set the fastest lap for Mercedes in Chinese Grand Prix practice.
The 43-year-old seven times world champion, whose last win was with Ferrari in Shanghai in 2006, lapped the monumental circuit with a best time of one minute 35.973 seconds after McLaren's Lewis Hamilton laid down a marker in the morning.
Hamilton, who will have a five place grid penalty for Sunday's race due to an unscheduled gearbox change that has wrecked his hopes of a third pole position in a row, was second fastest after lunch.
The 2008 world champion, last year's winner and the only driver to have triumphed twice in Shanghai, completed only seven laps in the morning but topped the timing screens in 1:37.106.
With a damp start to the session after overnight rain, the Briton was happy to save his tyres in the knowledge that he will need every strategic advantage on Sunday if he is to celebrate a first win of the season.
Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Schumacher, whose team saw off a protest by rivals Lotus yesterday over their controversial rear wing, were second and third quickest respectively in the first session.
Mexican Sergio Perez, who took his Sauber to a stunning second place in Malaysia last month, was fourth in the morning ahead of Japanese team mate Kamui Kobayashi but the usual suspects pushed them back in the afternoon.
Red Bull's double champion Sebastian Vettel ended the day third fastest with Australian team mate Mark Webber fourth.
Ferrari seemed mired in problems again, with championship leader Fernando Alonso lapping 11th and 10th fastest in the two sessions. Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa was 17th in the afternoon.
Vettel, who has yet to win this season or qualify on the front row after dominating 2011, was using a different exhaust set-up to Webber.
Force India's French reserve Jules Bianchi made his practice debut, replacing Britain's Paul Di Resta for the first session.
Other less familiar names today included Finnish reserve Valtteri Bottas for Williams and Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde for Caterham. — Reuters