SHANGHAI (AP) — Ferrari's Fernando Alonso set the pace in the first practice session at the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday, indicating the struggling team could emerge as a challenger to dominant Mercedes in Sunday's race.
Alonso set a best time of 1 minute, 39.783 seconds around the Shanghai International Circuit, nearly 0.4 seconds faster than Mercedes' Nico Rosberg in second. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was third, nearly a full second behind Alonso.
Mercedes has won all three races to start the season, with Lewis Hamilton taking two and Rosberg one. Only a engine problem on Hamilton's car in the opening race in Australia has prevented three successive one-two finishes.
Alonso, meanwhile, has managed no better than a pair of fourth-place finishes.
Hamilton was eighth-fastest in Friday's practice, just ahead of four-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull in ninth.
Ferrari has thus far been unable to keep pace with Mercedes following the sport's switch to new V6 turbo hybrid engines.
After Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finished in ninth and 10th place at the Bahrain GP, respectively, Ferrari abruptly parted ways with team principal Stefano Domenicali, replacing him with Marco Mattiacci, formerly president of Ferrari North America.
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