SHANGHAI (AP) — Mercedes set the fastest practice times again at the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday, though rivals Ferrari and Red Bull may have closed the gap somewhat on Formula One's runaway leader.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, winner of the past two F1 races, was quickest around the Shanghai International Circuit in the afternoon session after a suspension problem limited him to only nine laps in the morning session.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, however, was just 0.141 seconds behind Hamilton under the watch of new team principal Marco Mattiacci, who arrived in Shanghai to take charge following Stefano Domenicali's resignation this week.
Alonso also set the quickest time during the morning practice.
Hamilton was delayed in the garage for a half hour in the afternoon session while his crew tried to resolve the suspension trouble.
"It's great to be still up front even though we have those issues," he said. "But, still, you want to get the car ready, you want to get the long runs feeling a little better, so there's some work to do."
Teammate Nico Rosberg had the third fastest practice time, about 0.4 seconds behind Hamilton. He said Mercedes still expects to win the race on Sunday, even if its rivals performed well in practice.
"We're still looking pretty decent at the moment," he said. "The competitors are pushing — today, Ferrari was very close."
Mercedes has dominated the season, with Hamilton winning in Bahrain and Malaysia and Rosberg in Australia. Only an engine problem on Hamilton's car in the opening race in Melbourne prevented three successive one-two finishes.
But Alonso, the defending Chinese GP champion, kept pace with them in the cool conditions of Shanghai, indicating his struggling team may just emerge as a challenger on Sunday.