April 12th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Nico Rosberg led his Mercedes team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, at the top of the times for the first practice session in Shanghai this morning. Rosberg won the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix in dominant fashion, and looks set to continue his strong run of form at the Shanghai International Circuit in 2013.
The Red Bull pair of Webber and Vettel were third and fourth, albeit nearly a second slower than Rosberg's benchmark time of 1:36.717. However, a fair amount of that difference is likely down to fuel load - Red Bull are known to run with slightly heavier fuel loads than their rivals during Friday practice. Nonetheless, the pace of Mercedes is impressive - Rosberg was four tenths of a second quicker than the quickest time in FP1 from 2012, and it should be taken into account that DRS is restricted this season to only the DRS zones during practice, whereas there were no restrictions for DRS in practice last year.
The Ferraris of Alonso and Massa were fifth and seventh, split by Jenson Button's McLaren. After a poor start to the season, McLaren have been working hard to make up their deficit to the front of the field, and Button will be hoping his sixth place in FP1 is an indication of improved performance from his car. Both Force Indias featured in the top ten, with Sutil eighth and Di Resta tenth, split by the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. Force India have looked competitive from the start of the season in Australia, but were unfortunate to miss out on a strong result in Malaysia due to pit-stop issues with their wheels. They are confident that those problems are behind them and looking forward to a strong race on Sunday.
One of the striking features of the FP1 session was the gap between the established teams and the "new" teams. In Australia and Malaysia, Marussia and Caterham were not too far away from the teams immediately ahead of them, but today, Jules Bianchi's time in 19th place was 1.9 seconds slower than Esteban Gutierrez ahead of him. Unless Marussia and Caterham can find a significant chunk of speed before Sunday's race, they are likely to spend the Grand Prix being lapped quite frequently.
FP1 proceeded relatively without incident, with a spin from Kimi Raikkonen in the middle of the session the most exciting moment until the very end of FP1, when Sergio Perez crashed gently through the gravel at the pit-lane entry, the same place that Lewis Hamilton famously went off in 2007 when leading the World Championship in his debut season. Perez appeared to carry a bit too much speed into the pit entry and locked his left front tyre, understeering into the gravel and ultimately the tyre barrier.
FP2 will see the first use of the option tyre, which will provide an indication of the relative performance of the two tyre compounds. The low-fuel option tyre runs will also show potential qualifying pace for the first time this weekend.