Lewis Hamilton edges Kimi Raikkonen in Chinese Grand Prix practice

Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sports a trademark smile in the paddock

Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sports a trademark smile in the paddock

There seems nearly nothing to choose between the top two teams on pure pace, with Red Bull a little off on one-lap performance but much closer on race pace.

The annual battle between the sport's two giants has taken on an unexpected complexion, with Mercedes anxious for a win in Shanghai on Sunday after Vettel stunned the champions with wins in both Australia and Bahrain. "Obviously after this incident I didn't, but I just saw Max now", Hamilton said Thursday, as quoted by Sky Sports F1.

It wasn't just Hamilton and Raikkonen who were closely matched, with Valtteri Bottas in third only 0.033s off his teammate and Sebastian Vettel 0.108s adrift of the fastest time in fourth place as Ferrari again looked competitive after back-to-back wins for Vettel so far this season. "This should be a good track for us but I think it's going to be close".

Second practice gets underway at 7am BST.

"But it means that we really need to bring our A game".

Germany's Vettel and Ferrari stole a march on the Silver Arrows with victory in Australia to open the Formula One season and followed up with a tense triumph last weekend in Bahrain. "In Nascar races there are punch-ups too but if we had a punch-up here your career would be over".

Confirming their challenge, the red cars ended Friday practice hot on Mercedes' heels.

"My thoughts are already on the world championship - I've lost two races in a row now and I am 17 points down after just two races".

"But if we do, like this weekend, and we find the sweet spot, then I'm pretty confident that we can do well there as well". The former champions have finished on the podium in China in the last two years.

Between the Red Bulls were Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz as both Renault and Haas again looked like being the front-runners in terms of the remaining points positions, with all three getting within a second of Hamilton's time. The Briton is hopeful that his actions will bode well for the future as they are certain to come up against each other on more than a few occasions during the course of the season. "I have. Yes. I am not going to tell you when it was".

Fernando Alonso was 10th fastest for McLaren, 1.150s off the pace, having benefitted from a tow from team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who was on an in-lap, on the long back straight. "We got through all the laps that we needed".

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