Despite Mercedes playing down their chances of repeating last year’s Chinese Grand Prix victory, the leaderboard after FP1 had a familiar look to it with Nico Rosberg the fastest driver on view.
Half a second behind him, team-mate Lewis Hamilton held P2 and then a further half-second back, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were P3 and P4 respectively for Red Bull Racing.
Fernando Alonso slotted into fifth for Ferrari, followed by the improving McLaren of Jenson Button and then Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari. Adrian Sutil was eighth for Force India, with Romain Grosjean’s Lotus separating him from tenth-placed team-mate Paul di Resta.
The session got off to a typically slow start. After an installation lap the expected front runners retired to the garages, waiting for the track to rubber-in. One of those to go out early was Ma Qing Hua, running as a Friday driver for Caterham after four Friday appearances last year for HRT. He was replacing Charles Pic for the session.
Serious running started with half an hour gone and Jenson Button was the early pacesetter with a time of 1:41.798 – though at that point Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes had not ventured out of the garage. When they did, Kimi Räikkönen had a spin at turn nine, the first of the session. With wide runoffs available at the Shanghai International Circuit, he was followed by many others as they tested the limits of the track.
Webber rose to P1 with 50 minutes of the session run, lowering the bar to 1:37.658 but that was soon eclipsed by Hamilton and Rosberg and the latter’s time of 1:36.717 stood until the end of the session. With the leading cars running long-run simulations on the medium tyre, no-one improved in the last half-hour and the order stayed static until the flag.
FIA Formula One Chinese Grand Prix 2013 - Free Practice 1 Times
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:36.717
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.171
3 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:37.658
4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:37.942
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.965
6 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.069
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:38.095
8 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:38.125
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:38.398
10 Paul di Resta Force India 1:38.561
11 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:38.790
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:39.057
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:39.158
14 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:39.180
15 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:39.336
16 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:39.360
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:39.392
18 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:40.032
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:41.966
20 Max Chilton Marussia 1:42.056
21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:42.083
22 Qing Hua Ma Caterham 1:43.545