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Hamilton sets the early pace in China

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 2009Lewis Hamilton set the pace in the first free practice for the Chinese Grand Prix - leading an official GP session for the first time in 2009, as the new aerodynamic package on the McLaren MP4-24 appeared to vault the world champion to the front of the pack.

Hamilton, who set his best time 60 minutes into practice, took full advantage of McLaren's new interim double-decker diffuser to outpace championship leader Jenson Button and Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello.

More encouraging still for McLaren was that Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen was fourth fastest.

True to form in 2009, the first half an hour of the session was comprised mainly of rookie Sebastien Buemi data logging and mental marking in his Toro Rosso, but just before the 30-minute mark Toyota's Jarno Trulli became the first significant front-runner to post a fast time - 1:39.959.

The Italian immediately lowered that by 0.69 seconds before apparently suffering an electrical problem that blanked out his Toyota dashboard and rendered him pitbound for half an hour or so.

Meanwhile Hamilton, whose car featured several tweaks on top of the new diffuser, signalled his intentions with a 1:38.603 - though his best was quickly usurped when the Brawns of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello began to run seriously.

But just after the hour mark, Hamilton went quicker still, and his time of 1:37.334 proved unmatchable for the rest of the session.

Encouragingly for the Woking team, Kovalainen stayed in touch with the leading trio for much of the session and ended it just 0.338s from the ultimate pace.

Mark Webber was fifth fastest for Red Bull ahead of Trulli, who recovered to sixth, and this year's free practice star Nico Rosberg, who worked down to a quiet seventh for Williams.

Toyota's Timo Glock ran off track a couple of times during the session en route to eighth place, ahead of Fernando Alonso's Renault. Sebastien Bourdais' tenth place, paired with Buemi's 13th, also indicated that Toro Rosso is making progress with its STR4.

Not so happy was Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 11th, while team-mate Felipe Massa complained of severe graining on his way to 15th. Both ran off-track at Turn 14 early on and the Brazilian would later spin at the same corner as he struggled for grip on his eradicated Bridgestones.

Others to have small moments during a session devoid of any major stoppages included Williams's Kazuki Nakajima, Renault's Nelson Piquet and BMW's Nick Heidfeld.

Pos  Driver        Team                      Time              Laps
 1.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes     (B)  1:37.334 +         22
 2.  Button        Brawn GP-Mercedes    (B)  1:37.450 + 0.116   18
 3.  Barrichello   Brawn GP-Mercedes    (B)  1:37.566 + 0.232   19
 4.  Kovalainen    McLaren-Mercedes     (B)  1:37.672 + 0.338   23
 5.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault     (B)  1:37.752 + 0.418   20
 6.  Trulli        Toyota               (B)  1:37.764 + 0.430   19
 7.  Rosberg       Williams-Toyota      (B)  1:37.860 + 0.526   24
 8.  Glock         Toyota               (B)  1:37.894 + 0.560   21
 9.  Alonso        Renault              (B)  1:38.089 + 0.755   19
10.  Bourdais      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   (B)  1:38.195 + 0.861   24
11.  Raikkonen     Ferrari              (B)  1:38.223 + 0.889   23
12.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault     (B)  1:38.274 + 0.940   20
13.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari   (B)  1:38.307 + 0.973   26
14.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes (B)  1:38.319 + 0.985   18
15.  Massa         Ferrari              (B)  1:38.418 + 1.084   20
16.  Heidfeld      BMW Sauber           (B)  1:38.456 + 1.122   21
17.  Fisichella    Force India-Mercedes (B)  1:38.460 + 1.126   19
18.  Kubica        BMW Sauber           (B)  1:38.463 + 1.129   18
19.  Nakajima      Williams-Toyota      (B)  1:38.730 + 1.396   25
20.  Piquet        Renault              (B)  1:38.825 + 1.491   20

All timing unofficial
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