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Friday, October 17, 2008

Hamilton draws first blood in Shanghai

Lewis Hamilton struck first in Friday practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, setting the day's fastest time of 1:35.630 in the first session to best Felipe Massa.

Hamilton, who is coming under increasing criticism for his driving, also topped the second session, with his Ferrari rival down in sixth.

Robert Kubica, the final remaining title contender, was fifth in the morning and 12th in the afternoon session.

Winner of the last two races, Fernando Alonso took yet another shot across the bow, putting his Renault second in the second session. He also to another swipe at Hamilton.

"Last year, when the championship was at this stage, everyone said they wanted either me or Kimi to win," the double world champion reportedly told Spanish broadcaster Telecinco "This year, all the drivers want Massa to be champion. So I think it is not my problem, it is Hamilton's."

Hamilton needs to gain six points on his rivals to put the championship out of reach. The Briton was exuding confidence after his first day on the Shanghai circuit.

"From the moment we hit the track this morning, the car felt well balanced and positive," he enthused. "No matter what we changed on the car, it just kept getting better and better and the grip and balance kept improving. This is the best possible way to kick off any weekend and has given me extra confidence for the next few days: I feel in a very good place right now."

While the first day times weren't in line with his primary rival's, Massa, too, likes his chances.

"We did a good job and I think we will be competitive at the track," he said. "The performance level improved bit by bit as the track got more grip. In the first session, the car was a bit twitchy but then, especially in the second part of the afternoon session, its handling improved. I think we are working in the right direction in terms of car set-up. My aim for the weekend? Obviously I'll be trying to win or at least to get as many points as possible."

Less positive was Kubica, however, who believes much remains to be done if he is to stay in the title hunt.

"We tried all kinds of different things, but I'm not happy yet with the balance of the car, and the overall level of grip is poor," he said. "We have to analyse the data carefully to make the right changes for tomorrow. There is still a lot of work to be done."

Hot on the heels of his error-filled Japanese Grand Prix, all eyes will be on how Hamilton handles his return to Shanghai, site of his championship altering trip into the gravel last season.

Qualifying for the penultimate race kicks off Saturday at 14:00 local time.

First practice:

  1. Hamilton, McLaren, 1:35.630
  2. Massa, Ferrari, 1:36.020
  3. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:36.052
  4. Kovalainen, McLaren, 1:36.103
  5. Kubica, BMW Sauber, 1:36.507
  6. Alonso, Renault, 1:36.661
  7. Heidfeld, BMW Sauber, 1:37.040
  8. Bourdais, Toro Rosso, 1:37.070
  9. Piquet, Renault, 1:37.180
  10. Vettel, Toro Rosso, 1:37.278
  11. Webber, Red Bull, 1:37.491
  12. Button, Honda, 1:37.619
  13. Nakajima, Williams, 1:37.630
  14. Coulthard, Red Bull, 1:37.638
  15. Rosberg, Williams, 1:37.638
  16. Glock, Toyota, 1:37.664
  17. Barrichello, Honda, 1:37.827
  18. Trulli, Toyota, 1:38.219
  19. Sutil, Force India, 1:38.285
  20. Fisichella, Force India, 1:38.479
Second practice:

  1. Hamilton, McLaren, 1:35.750
  2. Alonso, Renault, 1:36.024
  3. Piquet, Renault 1:36.094
  4. Trulli, Toyota, 1:36.159
  5. Webber, Red Bull, 1:36.375
  6. Massa, Ferrari, 1:36.480
  7. Bourdais, Toro Rosso, 1:36.529
  8. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:36.542
  9. Heidfeld, BMW Sauber, 1:36.553
  10. Rosberg, Williams, 1:36.556
  11. Glock, Toyota, 1:36.615
  12. Kubica, BMW Sauber, 1:36.775
  13. Kovalainen, McLaren, 1:36.797
  14. Coulthard, Red Bull, 1:36.808
  15. Vettel, Toro Rosso, 1:36.925
  16. Nakajima, Williams, 1:36.975
  17. Fisichella, Force India, 1:37.473
  18. Sutil, Force India, 1:37.617
  19. Button, Honda, 1:37.800
  20. Barrichello, Honda 1:37.904
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