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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Lewis Hamilton fastest in Chinese Grand Prix practice ahead of Kimi Raikkonen

The Mercedes-GP man sets the pace in Shanghai as he looks for first of 2018 in Sunday's race

Lewis Hamilton was fastest in Chinese Grand Prix practice. Mark Thompson / Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton was fastest in Chinese Grand Prix practice. Mark Thompson / Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton set the pace for Mercedes-GP in free practice on Friday at the Chinese Grand Prix but Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was just a whisker behind as the rival teams headed for another clash in this weekend's race.

The British reigning world champion topped the time sheet with a best lap of one minute and 33.482 seconds in Shanghai, just .007 seconds ahead of the Finn in windy, moist conditions.

Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was third, followed by current season leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, with a mere 0.108 seconds separating the top four.

The annual battle between the sport's's two giants has taken on an unexpected complexion, with Mercedes anxious for a win in Shanghai after Vettel won in both Australia and Bahrain.

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Mercedes are hopeful they can get things back on track on a Shanghai circuit where Hamilton is tough to beat.

The Englishman is easily the most successful driver in the 14-year history of the Chinese race with five wins, and he buoyed Mercedes hopes of a Shanghai fightback by leading the pack in both of Friday's sessions.

Both Vettel and Hamilton are chasing a fifth world title this year.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull had to settle for fifth-fastest in practice, followed by Nico Hulkenberg driving for Renault.

Kevin Magnusson was seventh for Haas, ahead of Renault's Carlos Sainz and Verstappen's teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

Two-time former world champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren rounded out the top 10.

Vettel raced to victory in Australia to open the Formula One season, following up with a tense triumph over champions Mercedes last weekend in Bahrain.

Ferrari have capitalised on a range of problems afflicting the champions, from software bugs to communication problems and grid penalties, but team principal Toto Wolff has vowed Mercedes will bring its "A game" in Shanghai.