Hamilton sets the pace


SHANGHAI, April 16 – Britain's Lewis Hamilton clocked the fastest time in opening practice for the Chinese Grand Prix Friday on an impressive day for McLaren at the Shanghai International Circuit.The 25-year-old, victorious in China in his world championship-winning season of 2008, set his benchmark time of one minute and 35.217 seconds after 50 minutes had elapsed in a largely uneventful 90-minute afternoon session.

Nico Rosberg was second for Mercedes, a quarter of a second adrift of Hamilton, while reigning world champion Jenson Button was third for McLaren, 0.376 seconds behind team-mate Hamilton.

Button had topped the morning session with a lap of one minute 36.677 seconds.

Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher was an encouraging fourth for Mercedes. Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, winner in Malaysia, rounded out the top five for Red Bull Racing with team-mate Australian Mark Webber in sixth.

Ferrari’s woes continued in the afternoon session, with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso finishing 10th, one place ahead of team-mate and current championship leader Felipe Massa.

Alonso, who blew an engine in the morning session after retiring in Malaysia a fortnight ago with a similar problem, was 1.3 seconds slower than Hamilton’s session-best lap.

Friday’s second session was a low-key affair after Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi earlier walked away from a 300 kilometres (186 miles) an hour accident.

The 21-year-old Swiss miraculously escaped unhurt when an upright on the front wing of the car collapsed as he braked for a corner, sending him into the barriers and both of his front wheels over the fence into the spectator area.

He sat out the afternoon session as his team repaired the car.

The only interruption in the second session came when Heikki Kovalainen was forced to stop on the track inside the final 10 minutes with an oil pressure problem.

Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov survived a spin late in the session to finish 12th, six-tenths of a second down on Renault team leader Robert Kubica, who was ninth overall.