SHANGHAI, April 15, 2011 (AFP) - World championship leader Sebastian Vettel set the pace in practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, topping the timesheets in both sessions in Shanghai on Friday in his speedy Red Bull.
The 23-year-old German, the reigning world champion, has been the dominant force in the opening two races of the year, winning in Australia and Malaysia from pole position.
He again stayed ahead of the field at the Shanghai International Circuit, leading Australian teammate Mark Webber by six-tenths of a second in morning practice.
While Briton Lewis Hamilton was within 0.166secs of Vettel in the afternoon session for McLaren, Vettel still finished with the fastest lap of the day with a time of 1min 37.688secs.
Vettel, who took Red Bull's first win as a constructor in China in 2009, said: "We found a good rhythm and we're happy with the car. "There's still a lot to do and I think it will be tight tomorrow and on Sunday, so we'll look where we can improve."
Today we had no big issues, but it's only Friday and so it's early in the race weekend."Hamilton, who hinted that he could leave McLaren in search of more success if the British team cannot provide him with a car capable of winning multiple
world championships, said the Red Bulls were again in firm charge.
"I've been really struggling with the balance of my car, and I don't know if that's because of the upgrade that we have, or whether it's with the set-up," the 26-year-old said. "In the end I was able to get a relatively decent lap time, but I wasn't
very comfortable in the car."
"My feeling is that they're very, very quick this weekend," Hamilton said of the Red Bulls. "You need quite good downforce on this circuit, and they've shown time and time again that they have a little bit more than us.
"It looks like we're just behind them, but there's a little bit of a gap between us and them. They'll still be setting the pace."
After disappointing results in the opening two races of the season, Webber again struggled to keep up with Vettel's searing pace.He was once more struck with reliability problems after his Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) failed to work at all in last Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.
The 34-year-old Australian was told by his team not to use the power-boost device in opening practice in China because of concerns over its reliability, while in the second session, Webber could only finish 10th and 1.639secs behind his teammate after a difficult run with the softer Pirelli tyre.
Webber said: "Generally, it was a good Friday (but) I didn't have the best P2 (second practice), particularly on the short run with the new tyres, which is why my time is down a little. "The long run on the option tyre was good. We'll look at KERS tonight -- we'd like to run it this weekend."
Webber sits in fourth place in the championship race, 28 points behind his teammate after the opening two races. Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button is second overall, followed by Hamilton in third. Button was third in the second practice, a quarter of a second behind Vettel.Ferrari's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was another dogged by technical issues and spent much of the afternoon sidelined by a hydraulics problem.
But the Spaniard emerged late in the second practice session to finish 14th fastest, more than two seconds off the pace as the famed Italian team continued to struggle.
A third and final practice session will take place on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying in the afternoon.
Here ar the 2nd Practice times:
|7||14||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:38.735||1.047||35|
|24||15||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||No time||0|