SHANGHAI (AFP) – Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel has continued his recent run of majestic form, dominating the first practice session at the Chinese Grand Prix.
The German, who has won both races so far this season, in Australia and Malaysia, recorded his benchmark time of 1min 38.739secs after 55 minutes of the 90-minute session, and finished six-tenths of a second ahead of Red Bull teammate Mark Webber of Australia.
The Red Bulls were in a class of their own on Friday morning in Shanghai, with Britons Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button third and fourth for McLaren, but over two seconds adrift of Vettel's blistering time.
German Nick Heidfeld was fifth for Renault despite a crash with half an hour of the session remaining, while Brazilian Felipe Massa was sixth for Ferrari but 2.3secs behind Vettel's session-best pace.
Mexican Sergio Perez (Sauber), Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Russian Vitaly Petrov (Renault) and Swiss Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) rounded out the top 10.
Two-time world champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso could only manage 12th for Ferrari after spending much of the session concentrating on aerodynamic testing.
Webber led the session at one-third distance despite experiencing more problems with his Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), the power-boost device that failed on the warm-up lap of last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
Vettel soon asserted his authority on the session, going fastest by half a second after 40 minutes and extending the gap to his teammate to 1.3secs after 55 minutes.
Webber was able to shave seven-tenths of a second off that margin later in the session, but Vettel's time easily stood for the remainder of the morning.
The German has won five of the last six races dating back to last year's Japanese Grand Prix in October, and has led for all but five laps in the first two races of 2011.
Heidfeld's spin, which came after he ran wide at the 10th turn and nosed the Renault into the barrier, was one of few on-track incidents in a relatively quiet session.
Maldonado, who has yet to finish a Grand Prix this season, jumped into the top 10 late in the session for Williams before spinning at the fifth turn and taking no further part after beaching the car on the kerb.
A second 90-minute practice session will take place in Shanghai on Friday afternoon.