SHANGHAI - Lewis Hamilton battled back Friday to set the fastest time in second practice for the Chinese Grand Prix after suspension problems with his Mercedes earlier in the day. Fernando Alonso brought some welcome cheer to Ferrari after a troubled week, by posting the second fastest lap in the afternoon after leading the first session. Championship leader Nico Rosberg was third fastest in his Mercedes followed by the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in fourth and fifth respectively.
It was a mixed day for Ferrari and their new team principal Marco Mattiacci, who was installed after Stefano Domenicali dramatically quit on Monday. Kimi Raikkonen was unable to complete a lap in the morning with mechanical problems and then could only post the seventh fastest time when he finally managed to get out of the Ferrari garage in the afternoon.
Hamilton clocked 1min 38.315sec on the quicker soft tyre compound, despite complaining of understeer into turn one. The Englishman lost almost an hour of track time over the two 90-minute Friday practice sessions as his engineers worked on trying to improve his problematic front suspension which had left him languishing in eighth place in the first session.
Late in the session Hamilton, despite being quickest, again got on the radio to complain: "Something's not right with this car." Alonso was only a fraction behind Hamilton in 1min 38.456sec with Rosberg a further 0.270 behind. Felipe Massa demonstrated that his Williams was improving by being sixth fastest with a lap of 1min 39.118sec.
In the morning on the medium compound tyres Alonso had clocked 1min 39.783sec to lead the pack with championship leader Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes second, 0.398sec behind. After a chilly morning with temperatures in Shanghai hovering around the 13 degrees Celsius mark, temperatures rose slightly to 16C for the second free practice at the 5.451 kilometre Shanghai International Circuit.
The cool conditions meant many drivers suffered from lack of heat in their tyres and struggled with braking throughout the two sessions. Raikkonen's morning mechanical misfortune did give him time to chat with new boss Mattiacci, who finally made an appearance in Shanghai this week when he strolled into the Ferrari garage at the start of the day. Force India, second in the constructors championship after Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg came third and fifth respectively in Bahrain, had a poor day by their season's high standards so far.
Hulkenberg was 11th with a best lap of 1:39.736 and Perez back in 15th with 1:40.124. Pastor Maldonado in the Lotus had a torrid day. In the first session he spun while fiddling with his steering wheel. And, after a number of errors in second practice, his session ended prematurely when he lost concentration again and drove heavily and inexplicably into the tyre barrier at the entrance to the pit lane, wrecking the front of his car. "I crashed," he exclaimed over team radio. "Oh OK," came the reply. "I'm sorry," added Maldonado, sheepishly.