Sebastian Vettel has continued his winning from from last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Sebastian VettelPrix into the opening practice session for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, by heading Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber in a team 1-2 in the opening practice session today.

While having a Red Bull on the top of the practice timesheets is hardly a surprise given the current form shown by the RB7, it was the margin – over two seconds quicker – ahead of their nearest rivals that will certainly have a few front-running teams scratching their heads.

Heading the chasing pack were the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who lapped closed to one another’s pace but well off Vettel, who was the only driver to lap under 1m39s in the session.

Conditions were overcast when running got underway in the morning, with a think blanket of fog and Shanghai’s customary filthy air shrouding the circuit in a curious mist. While air and track temperatures hit 26°C and 30 °C respectively, neither picked up much with the cloud cover not allowing the sun to warm conditions any further.

As Hamilton and Button set about evaluating new components for their MP4-26 challengers, they quickly moved to the top of the timesheets when running got underway. Later on, Button battled what appeared to be a KERS-related issue.

Vettel’s team-mate Webber again appeared to suffer yet more KERS-related problems in his RB7, and he’ll be hoping that the 0.6-second gap to Vettel can initially be explained as being a result of this problem.

Nick Heidfeld crashed his Renault but still went fifth-fastest Renault showed yet more promising speed with Nick Heidfeld winding up fifth-fastest, although his running was cut short when he crashed at Turn 10.

Felipe Massa was quickest of the Ferraris in sixth place, finishing fractionally quicker than the two rookies, Sergio Pérez and Pastor Maldonado – the Venezuelan would also cause a late yellow flag when he spun into the gravel at Turn 7.

Eighth-fastest and quickest through the speed trap was Vitaly Petrov in the sister Renult R31. The Russian’s top speed of 319.2km/h (198.3mph) was 0.6km/h up on the second-fastest man, Heidfeld, and potentially indicating that the black and gold cars could again be a factor here this weekend.

Meanwhile, Sébastien Buemi finished the session in the top-ten, just pipping Nico Rosberg and his Mercedes GP to that final spot.

Luiz Razia breaks his front wing A strong session was also enjoyed by Heikki Kovalainen – the regular driver back in the cockpit instead of Davide Valsecchi, who the team had originally confirmed – who finished 14th-fastest for Team Lotus. Rookie driver Luiz Razia finished the session second-slowest with only nine laps to his name after damaging his front win, an incident that cause Jarno Trulli (the driver the Brazilian was replacing in this session) to gesticulate angrily in the team garage.


2011 Chinese Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:

  Driver   Team Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Renault RB7 1:38.739 23
2. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Renault RB7 + 0.615 27
3. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 2.106 21
4. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 2.201 22
5. Nick Heidfeld DEU Renault R31 + 2.248 5
6. Felipe Massa BRZ Ferrari F150° Italia + 2.307 25
7. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C30 + 2.450 20
8. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.483 20
9. Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault R31 + 2.492 16
10. Sébastien Buemi SUI Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 2.589 21
11. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 2.622 23
12. Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari F150° Italia + 2.695 15
13. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 2.755 20
14. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus Renault T128 + 2.840 13
15. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 2.871 18
16. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 3.013 20
17. Rubens Barrichello BRZ Williams Cosworth FW33 + 3.200 25
18. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 3.562 23
19. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C30 + 5.053 20
20. Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 5.350 20
21. Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 5.620 18
22. Timo Glock DEU Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 5.699 11
23. Luiz Razia BRZ Lotus Renault T128 + 5.803 9
24. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 6.280 23

[Original images via and Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.