Motorsport: Schumacher picks up the pace in China

Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher rolled back the years in his rejuvenated Mercedes, clocking the fastest time in practice for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Formula One attempted to get back to the business of racing in Shanghai after all the talk about Bahrain, with the decorated German setting the pace at a damp and cool Shanghai International Circuit.

Schumacher roared around the 5.45-kilometre track in one minute 35.973 seconds, in search of his first pole position and race victory since sensationally coming out of retirement in 2010.

Briton's Lewis Hamilton, who topped the time charts in the first practice earlier in the day, was second to Schumacher, 0.172sec off in his McLaren.

Schumacher refused to get carried away, calling it merely a "trouble-free day".

"As a team, we are a lot stronger in certain areas this season, and we have a much better base to work from, although we are not quite where we want to be with this car, yet but I am confident we will get there," he said.

"We will now have to look deeper into the data in order to find out where we really are here, but I am looking forward to tomorrow's qualifying."

Hamilton, who incurred a five-place penalty on the grid for a change of gearbox, said he was relishing having to fight his way up the field.

"I always like the challenge of trying to come through (the pack) but it's incredible at the start of the race," he said.

"Trying to gain positions while staying out of trouble is always key, but I am looking forward to qualifying tomorrow and hope we can be as high as possible so then the the penalty is not too bad. I think we'll still be in the race."

Sebastian Vettel, the two-time reigning world champion, was third quickest, followed by team-mate Mark Webber.

Webber, who was nearly half a second slower than Schumacher, was anticipating a tight race, but said he we happy with his Red Bull, which is not enjoying the superiority of previous years.

"Overall we are going in the right way and all the whole team is working together and we have a good group," he said.

"It's very close at the front."

Fellow Australian Daniel Ricciardo was 12th fastest in his Toro Rosso.

Nico Rosberg, Schumacher's Mercedes team-mate, was fifth fastest followed by McLaren's Jenson Button.

Championship leader Fernando Alonso, who was victorious in Malaysia, was down in 10th with a relatively lacklustre 1:37.316sec, while his struggling Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa was back in 17th.

There will be another practice session and qualifying on Saturday with the race to start Sunday at 3pm local time.

- AFP

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