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Lewis Hamilton heads McLaren 1-2 in final Chinese Grand Prix practice at Shanghai

Lewis Hamilton McLaren 2012 Chinese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton set himself up perfectly for a strong qualifying run at the Chinese Grand Prix by topping the final free practice session at Shanghai.

The McLaren driver must serve a five-place grid penalty because of a gearbox change, but confirmed his status as qualifying favourite as he bids to limit the damage caused and secure what would become sixth place on the grid.

Hamilton's fastest time came during a qualifying simulation on the soft Pirelli rubber late in the session, the 2008 world champion eclipsing his team-mate Jenson Button by just over a tenth of a second.

After a quiet start to the session, with the first timed lap not being completed until almost 15 minutes had elapsed, the teams and drivers set about their run plans on prime rubber. As well as evaluating overnight setup changes, teams also needed to use the running to understand how the increased track temperature, which was almost 15C higher than on Friday, affected tyre characteristics and grip levels, the latter reckoned to have reduced.

Red Bull's Mark Webber emerged with the fastest lap from those completing their initial prime runs in the first half-hour. He set a mark of 1m36.879s to shade Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg by 0.1s. But Hamilton also showed his pace on with fuel by lapping 0.375s off Webber's pace with a time set on his first flying lap. A subsequent run on mediums suggested that he could easily have gone quicker, even though he didn't complete what would have been a faster lap.

Sebastian Vettel also turned in a decent lap on his first proper prime run, which came later than most, lapping 0.160s off his team-mate. Vettel opted to use the Red Bull exhaust setup used in the first part of pre-season testing, which although it produces less downforce appears to offer him a more consistent and well-balanced car, while Webber stuck with the latest-specification.

Mercedes pairing Michael Schumacher and Rosberg were the first of the frontrunners to complete a qualifying simulation on soft rubber with around 20 minutes to go. Rosberg took top spot with a lap of 1m36.389s, shading his 43-year-old team-mate by 0.123s.

Button jumped ahead of both on his qualifying simulation with 10 minutes remaining, setting his best time on the third lap of his run.

In the flurry of qualifying simulations that followed in the final five minutes, Hamilton made his move and put together the fastest times in all three sectors to take top spot despite a lock-up at Turn 14.

Neither Red Bull driver appeared to show their full qualifying hand, with Webber ending up fifth and Vettel ninth, but Williams man Pastor Maldonado and Sauber duo Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi both did times good enough for the top 10.

The top 18, propped up by Ferrari's Felipe Massa, were covered by just 1.891s, suggesting that today's qualifying session will be a very competitive one for the leading nine teams.

Pos  Driver                Team                   Time               Laps
 1.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes       1m35.940s            13
 2.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1m36.093s  + 0.123   12
 3.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes               1m36.389s  + 0.449   16
 4.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes               1m36.512s  + 0.572   17
 5.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault       1m36.635s  + 0.695   16
 6.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault       1m36.765s  + 0.825   17
 7.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1m36.781s  + 0.841   19
 8.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari         1m36.880s  + 0.940   17
 9.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault       1m37.039s  + 1.099   15
10.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault          1m37.061s  + 1.121   17
11.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes   1m37.237s  + 1.297   16
12.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault          1m37.274s  + 1.334   19
13.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes   1m37.288s  + 1.348   16
14.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault       1m37.425s  + 1.485   14
15.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                1m37.465s  + 1.525   12
16.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m37.493s  + 1.553   13
17.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m37.628s  + 1.688   14
18.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari                1m37.831s  + 1.891   14
19.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault       1m38.701s  + 2.761   19
20.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault       1m39.198s  + 3.258   19
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth      1m39.796s  + 3.856   18
22.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth      1m40.048s  + 4.108   17
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth           1m41.263s  + 5.323   14
24.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth           1m41.499s  + 5.559   18

All Timing Unofficial
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