Lewis Hamilton made the most of a damp and frustrating first practice session at the Chinese Grand Prix by setting the fastest time by over a second on his final lap.
Sporadic drizzle at the Shanghai International Circuit prevented any meaningful running during the 90 minute session and the times and lap counts reflected that. Hamilton was a full second faster than second place Nico Rosberg, who made the most of the Mercedes' DRS-aided top speed to set a time 0.2s faster than team-mate Michael Schumacher.
But despite the McLaren's impressive pace, Hamilton still has a potential five-place grid penalty hanging over him as the team is expecting to change his gearbox ahead of qualifying. He continued to use the damaged gearbox in FP1 so as to save his new one for Saturday, but team principal Martin Whitmarsh said it was unlikely the team would risk running it for the rest of the weekend.
After Sergio Perez's impressive performance in the wet in Malaysia, Sauber again looked quick with Perez and Kamui Kobayashi in fourth and fifth ahead of the two Red Bulls. Mark Webber held the fastest time for much of the session, setting a reasonable lap on the medium compound tyres before rain dictated a switch to intermediates midway through. He failed to improve by a huge amount when the track invited slick tyres again but was still a couple of tenths faster than his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who has reverted to running an older-spec exhaust system from pre-season testing. However, it should also be noted that Vettel's DRS stopped working towards the end of the session, limiting his top speed and potential lap time.
Another driver struggling with his DRS was Kimi Raikkonen, who bailed out of the session early to allow his team to look at the issue. Judging by radio communications between the car and the Lotus pit wall, the DRS was not reverting to its closed position when Raikkonen hit the brakes and instead he had to operate it manually.
The Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were both outside the top ten but they were spending most of the session running constant-speed tests and analysing new parts. Alonso even continued to run on medium tyres when the track was wet so that Ferrari could gather as much aerodynamic data as possible to compare with its findings in the wind tunnel over the past three weeks.
All the drivers will be hoping for drier conditions in the second practice session, but with similar conditions expected throughout the weekend they may have to get used to running in the damp.