Third drivers lead the way, as title rivals lock horns behind
Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso were separated by less than two-tenths of a second at the end of Friday afternoons practice session in Shanghai, furthering hopes of a close battle between Ferrari and Renault in Sundays Chinese Grand Prix.
Massa lapped his Ferrari 248 F1 in 1m 36.599s, with Schumacher on 1m 36.641s and Alonso on 1m 36.739s in his Renault R26.
These times were set relatively early in the session which, after 20 minutes, was affected by a light rain shower. That precluded further developments in pace for a while, and subsequently all three were upstaged by Alexander Wurz, the inevitable Sebastian Vettel and Anthony Davidson, who lapped in 1m 35.539s, 1m 35.579 and 1m 35.714s respectively for Williams, BMW Sauber and Honda.
Franck Montagny was well to the fore for Super Aguri, lapping seventh fastest in 1m 37.278s, to head Red Bull rookie Michael Ammermuller (1m 37.678s), Spyker MF1's Tiago Monteiro (1m 37.698s), the second Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella (1m 37.718s) and the Honda of Jenson Button (1m 37.861s).
Pedro de la Rosa was 12th in the leading McLaren on 1m 38.022s, from Mark Webber (1m 38.045s) for Williams, Nick Heidfeld (1m 38.062s) in the BMW Sauber and Spyker MF1 third driver Alexandre Premat (1m 38.098s).
Rubens Barrichello was 16th with 1m 38.276s for Honda, ahead of the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher (1m 38.888s) and Jarno Trulli (1m 38.959s), with Scott Speed and Neel Jani leading the Toro Rosso attack with laps of 1m 39.080s and 1m 39.118s respectively. Tonio Liuzzi was 24th on 1m 39.570s for Red Bull. Liuzzi and Speed both spun in Turn 14, while Jani stopped with mechanical problems in Turn 3.
McLarens Kimi Raikkonen did only four laps for a best time of 1m 39.179s, which left him 21st ahead of Robert Kubica who did five. The Pole recorded 1m 39.217s to put his BMW Sauber 22nd, ahead of Nico Rosbergs Williams, which the German lapped in 1m 39.522s.
Sakon Yamamoto took his Super Aguri round in 1m 39.636s, leaving David Coulthard and Robert Doornbos 26th and 27th in their Red Bulls on 1m 40.155s and 1m 40.214s respectively. Spyker MF1's Christijan Albers (1m 40.319s) and Super Aguris Takuma Sato (1m 41.315s) brought up the rear.
Apart from the Toro Rossos dramas, the only other spinner was Alonso, who half-rotated his Renault in Turn 3.