Nico Rosberg set the early pactice pace at the Chinese Grand Prix

Defending Chinese Grand Prix race-winner Nico Rosberg has led a Mercedes team 1-2 on the timesheets in the opening practice session at the Shanghai International Circuit.

The German led home teammate Lewis Hamilton by almost half a second, comfortably clear of fueding Red Bull Racing duo Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, who were roughly a second shy of Rosberg’s quickest lap time of 1:36.717.

The field of 22 cars ran few laps in the opening 90-minute session, as each driver stayed in the garage in the hope that someone else would help to clean up the track surface, as well as save their Medium-compound Pirelli tyres for later in the weekend.

Once the action did get going, Rosberg put in a lower-fuel run in his Mercedes to move to the top of the timesheets ahead of early pace-setter Felipe Massa, and then do likewise again when Webber briefly moved to quickest overall.

Having laid low with allergies yesterday, Hamilton kept up his solid early-season pace with the second-fastest overall time, almost half a second faster than Webber managed in the Red Bull RB7. The Australian’s teammate Vettel was a further three-tenths adrift.

Fernando Alonso was fifth-quickest in his Ferrari, about a tenth faster than Jenson Button, who showed rather improved pace in his McLaren as the team brought a host of upgraded parts to try out on the troublesome MP4-28.

Sergio Perez did 'a Lewis' by crashing out at pit entryButton’s teammate Sergio Pérez attempted to copy the very man he replaced at McLaren, sliding into the pit entry gravel trap at the end of the session with an embarrassing error.

The Mexican couldn’t match Button’s pace in the sister car, finishing ten spots lower and over 1.3 seconds slower than Button.

Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil, Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta completed the top-ten positions, while former Chinese Grand Prix winner Kimi Räikkönen was just outside in eleventh-fastest, having suffered a quick spin at Turn 9 in his Lotus.

The midfield again saw a close fight between Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso, while Jules Bianchi again had the honours among the two cellar-dweller teams – Marussia and Caterham – leading home teammate Max Chilton to finish nineteenth and twentieth-fastest respectively, although almost two seconds off the pace of the next runner.

Bottom of the timesheets was Caterham test driver Ma Qing Hua – standing in for regular driver Charles Pic – who made history with his first FP1 appearance on home soil. The Shanghai-born driver had a few FP1 outings last year with the now-defunct HRTF1 Team, but performed sensibly on his first outing behind the wheel of the team’s CT03 challenger.

The second free practice session gets underway at 2:00PM local time (GMT+8).

2013 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:

Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04 1:36.717   21
2. Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04 1:37.171 + 0.454 20
3. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB9 1:37.658 + 0.941 21
4. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB9 1:37.942 +1.225 20
5. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F138 1:37.965 + 1.248 17
6. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-28 1:38.069 + 1.352 24
7. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F138 1:38.095 + 1.378 14
8. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India Mercedes VJM06 1:38.125 + 1.408 21
9. Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus F1 Renault E21 1:38.398 + 1.681 17
10. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM06 1:38.561 + 1.844 15
11. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E21 1:38.790 + 2.073 16
12. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8 1:39.057 + 2.340 19
13. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault FW35 1:39.158 + 2.441 22
14. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Sauber Ferrari C32 1:39.180 + 2.463 21
15. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8 1:39.336 + 2.619 19
16. Sergio Pérez MEX McLaren Mercedes MP4-28 1:39.360 + 2.643 20
17. Valtteri Bottas FIN Williams Renault FW35 1:39.392 + 2.675 21
18. Esteban Gutiérrez MEX Sauber Ferrari C32 1:40.032 + 3.315 22
19. Jules Bianchi FRA Marussia Cosworth MR02 1:41.966 + 5.249 16
20. Max Chilton GBR Marussia Cosworth MR02 1:42.056 + 5.339 18
21. Giedo van der Garde NED Caterham Renault CT03 1:42.083 + 5.366 21
22. Ma Qing Hua CHN Caterham Renault CT03 1:43.545 + 6.828 20

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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.