As it happened: Friday Practice
By Geoff Creighton and Emlyn Hughes
The live commentary has ended. No further updates will be posted.
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|Emlyn Hughes and Geoff Creighton are autosport.com's live commentary team. The dynamic duo have developed an inimitable style and a reputation for fast, accurate and insightful commentary. With unrivaled access to events unfolding at the circuit, they bring you the very latest, as it happens.
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Today on autosport.com Live we will be bring you text commentary and updates from the Friday practice sessions. The schedule (GMT) looks like this:
01:30 - 02:00 Setting the scene to ease you into the Formula One weekend.
02:00 - 03:30 Live commentary and updates from the first practice session.
03:30 - 06:00 Continuing track and weather updates and any breaking news from the circuit during the interval.
06:00 - 07:30 Live commentary and updates from the second practice session of the day.
07:30 - 08:00 End of day reaction and round-up, where we go from here, and what to look out for on Saturday.
08:00 Autosport.com Live commentary ends for today.
Will Ferrari or McLaren get the early advantage on the first day of running? Robert Kubica needs to produce the performance of his career this weekend. Will the BMW Sauber enable him to hold a candle to the top two teams? Can Nelson Piquet and Fernando Alonso continue their rich vein of form in the much-improved Renault R28?
If you are an autosport.com forum member, you can do this by clicking the SHOW LIVE FORUM link in the red bar at the bottom of the page. Join the lively debate and share your hopes and fears for the race weekend while the action takes place on track.
During the afternoon session, some patches of cloud are likely to build, but conditions are expected to remain bright.
Track temperatures will rise in the prolonged sunny periods. The Shanghai surface usually reflects the heat from the sun away quite well, resulting in track temps typically under the 40 degree mark - even on sunny days.
Hamilton also led the championship arriving at this round in 2007, with an exceptional wet-weather drive in Fuji giving him a 12-point margin over then teammate Fernando Alonso. Disaster struck in the race when Lewis slid his McLaren into the pit lane gravel trap on severely worn tyres, having led comfortably in the wet opening stages. This year he will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing Fuji performance to have a stronger weekend in Shanghai.
There is a chance of Hamilton securing the crown on Sunday. He must score six points more than Felipe Massa and prevent Kubica closing the gap by more than two points to avoid a decisive final round in Brazil.
Massa trimmed Hamilton's lead by two points after a dramatic race for the pair in Japan. Ferrari are expected to perform well in Shanghai and the Brazilian has a very good chance of travelling to his home country for a title showdown at the end of the month.
Robert Kubica is the third and final championship contender and the Pole closed to 12 points behind Hamilton after a determined drive at Fuji. He must take more points out of Hamilton on Sunday to remain in the fight, but the ever-consistent BMW driver will certainly give it his best shot.
Kimi Raikkonen is now out of contention to defend his championship, but Kubica can take heart from the Finn's incredible comeback from a 17 point deficit at this stage last year, although he did win the final two races to help secure the title.
The drama in Fuji saw Ferrari re-take the lead in the constructors' race with a six point advantage over McLaren. BMW remain in a strong third and still have a chance of the title if the top two teams continue to drop points as they battle aggressively.
Renault's recent upsurge in pace - and Alonso's impressive pair of race wins - sees the team well clear of rivals Toyota in the battle for fourth. The closest battle in the mid-field is now Red Bull vs Williams for seventh, with Toro Rosso now edging away from the pair in an impressive sixth.
Promising early-season form and strong qualifying performances ebbed away during the meat of the European season, as rivals such as Toyota, Renault and Toro Rosso found increased performance from their cars. But recently at the Singapore Grand Prix Nico Rosberg clinched a marvellous podium for the team, hauling them back into the fight against the Red Bull-backed teams.
Rosberg spoke to a scrum of reporters in the tranquil surroundings of the Shanghai paddock on Thursday afternoon, expressing disappointment - even astonishment at the recent upturn in form, particularly from Renault.
"I find it very disappointing because Renault was our competition in the first few races," said Rosberg. "Even after Bahrain, the third race of the season, we were quicker than Renault and it was our direct competition. It is quite shocking for me to see now that they are fighting for race wins and we are absolutely nowhere. It's really not a good thing for us.
"On this track it is going to be very difficult again for us, it is not a good track for Williams. Last year was one of our worst races here so I'm not really expecting too much from this weekend, but still we'll try and do our best and I think Brazil we will have better chances."
Rosberg has participated in two of the four Chinese Grands Prix since the event's addition to the Formula One calendar in 2004, finishing out of the points on both occasions. Despite this, the German is very positive about the circuit - and its designer.
"It is a very nice track for sure," he said. "Hermann Tilke, the architect, has done a great job, it is really exciting to drive, and I think it is also a track where you can see some overtaking, like we did in Fuji which is very nice, good for Formula One, so that is positive and I think we will have a great race on Sunday."
Inevitably, almost every driver in the paddock was asked yesterday on their thoughts regrading the world championship battle between Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica.
"We've seen so many mistakes this year from different drivers - myself included actually," said Rosberg, breaking into a laugh, "and so it would not be surprising if we see more of them now towards the end of the season, and I think it is going to be the one who wins is the one who is not making mistakes probably."
Bridgestone have arrived in Shanghai with the Hard and Medium compounds - the hardest possible selection of tyres from the four available specifications.
"The Shanghai International Circuit is very severe on tyres and that is why we are bringing the two hardest compounds from our range," said Hirohide Hamashima of Bridgestone. "There are very high lateral forces and we expect to see graining on the front left tyres."
Graining, a particularly notable feature of the grooved tyres that are making their penultimate appearance at a Grand Prix, is caused when pieces of rubber peel off and move around the tread surface, especially near the grooves.
The race in Fuji saw heavy tyre degredation on another circuit with long, flowing curves that also gave the left front tyre a hard time. Race pace fluctuated throughout the field as each car got the best from its tyres and then faded away as the rubber grained and wore out.
Although ambient temperatures in Shanghai are set to be higher than Fuji - in the mid-20s Celsius range - the harder tyre selection here is also more difficult to heat effectively on the circuit for a single flying lap.
Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole in Japan with an excellent lap in the Mclaren while Felipe Massa admitted that he struggled to get the best out of his tyres in the decisive final phase of qualifying. On Sunday, Ferrari's ultimate race pace was never fully unleashed after the mayhem of the opening laps but the lap times that they did achieve suggested they again had the best package over a long run of laps.
Today's sessions will tell us a little more about the relative pace of the two top teams as they work on evaluating the tyres. It won't be too much of a surprise if the pattern from Japan is repeated this weekend.
Honda have a tendency to complete two laps for the installation process, and indeed Button returns to the pits.
Nico Rosberg is out on track and he also comes back into pitlane at the end of his second tour of the circuit.
Running on the hard tyre, the Brazilian rounds turn 16 and crosses the start-finish line. We anticipate him coming into the pits at the end of this lap.
No cars on track.
A quiet start to the session looks to be in prospect.
Sebastien Bourdais comes out onto the track for a run in the Toro Rosso.
Meantime, Sebastien Bourdais completes his fourth timed lap and it's another improvement - 1:37.686.
More drivers are out there, including Nico Rosberg, who posts a 1:38.709 to go second in the Williams.
He remains fastest so far as we approach the half-hour mark in the first session.
Up front, Bourdais finds more time on his sixth timed lap - 1:37.101.
Barrichello goes fifth, which is quickly demoted to sixth as Jenson goes fourth in the sister car.
Further up the timesheet Mark Webber has completed his first timed lap and he immediately goes third with 1:38.103.
He is set for an improvement on his next lap, and indeed he moves up, but only to ninth with 1:37.598.
The off-track moment cost the McLaren a lot of speed on to the final straight and the lap was only 1:38.285.
The Frenchman has slipped down to sixth place as the McLarens, Ferraris and Fernando Alonso have come out for their first run of laps.
Behind him on the road, Hamilton puts together a clean lap of 1:36.044 to edge ahead of his teammate and make it a McLaren one-two after the first runs.
On the Williams team radio the Japanese driver reports that he is struggling with rear grip on the entry and exit of slow speed corners and understeer on the medium and high speed corners - possibly a drivers worst nightmare as they work to try and reach a neutral balance.
Ferrari's strength is in the final sector as the team unleash their potent engine and efficient aerodynamics on the the long straight, with Massa topping the times in that part of the lap.
The early runs certainly point to a close battle between the top two teams.
The top five are all now rolling out for a second round of laps.
He rejoined and immediately came back into the pits.
Bourdais has continued on this latest run of laps and is currently seventh, just behind Fernando Alonso in sixth.
He is told on the radio that he may be able to find more time in turns 8 and 11.
Nonetheless, he improves once again to make the benchmark time a 1:35.630.
The Brazilian runs out onto the grass and takes a bumpy ride back onto the circuit. He continues on this current run of laps.
Followiing Glock round the circuit, his front tyres look well past their best, with severe wear on the left front, which is the corner that takes most of the load round this punishing circuit, from the hard right-handers such as turns one and two, and also the long turn 13 leading on to the back straight.
His BMW teammate Robert Kubica is back out for his final run of laps this morning. Kubica is fifth, with Fernando Alonso - also on track - splitting the BMW pair in sixth.
The championship leader continues on his way without too much trouble.
Robert Kubica was fifth, 0.877 seconds shy of Hamilton's benchmark time, with Fernando Alonso sixth and Nick Heidfeld seventh in the second of the BMWs.
Hamilton leads first session in China
Hamilton also tops second practice
Lewis Hamilton set the pace in both sessions, with his early lap of 1:35.750 - slightly slower than his first session best - remaining the quickest throughout second practice. Hamilton also set a strong pace during long runs on both types of tyre, indicating that a close battle with Ferrari may be on the cards for Sunday. Relative fuel loads are of course unknown and tomorrow's practice and qualifying sessions will give a further indication of the balance of power.
The Renaults of Alonso and Piquet placed well in the final classification after their late laps on soft rubber, with Jarno Trulli and Mark Webber both slipping in fast laps to get ahead of Massa and Raikkonen. The Ferraris did not deliver fast flying laps in the short runs on soft tyres at the end of the session and may have been solely concentrating on race pace today.
We appologise for the technical issue that disrupted live coverage of the second session. This has now been resolved and autosport.com Live will return for full coverage of Saturday at the Chinese Grand Prix. Join us from 02:30 GMT tomorrow.