Hamilton expects Shanghai showdown
Lewis Hamilton is steeling himself for more of a fight from his title rivals this weekend as he bids to win three grands prix in a row.
Although Hamilton was left grumbling about his Mercedes towards the end of the second practice session for Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix, the 29-year-old still managed to again outpace the rest.
"Something's not right with this car," moaned Hamilton late in the second 90-minute run at a chilly Shanghai International Circuit where temperatures only managed to reach 16 degrees centigrade.
That followed a mechanical problem with the rear suspension that restricted Hamilton running in the first session.
Yet despite the niggles, Hamilton topped the timesheet for the third time in the four Friday outings this season, finishing with a lap of one minute 38.315 seconds, with Fernando Alonso 0.141secs adrift in a Ferrari seemingly more competitive in the cooler conditions.
After winning the last two races in Malaysia and Bahrain, Hamilton is far from convinced he and team-mate Nico Rosberg will have it all their own way again this weekend as they have done so far.
"It was quite a difficult day as we missed some of Friday morning's session which put us on the back foot slightly," said Hamilton.
"But we were glad to get some laps in the second session at least, although we're not too happy with the balance of the car at the moment so we need to work on that.
"A few of the other teams look to have improved in terms of pace, which is great as it means we will have a fight.
"There's a lot of work to do, but I'm confident that we can make some improvements going into (qualifying on Saturday)."
With new Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci in town on the first day of his new job, Alonso chose the perfect opportunity to prove the Prancing Horse is alive and kicking this season.
Stefano Domenicali resigned from his post on Monday to be replaced by Mattiacci after a disappointing start to the current campaign and after six seasons with only one trophy to his name.
With Mattiacci in the paddock, wearing sunglasses throughout despite the leaden skies over the track - apparently due to tiredness - Alonso was quickest in FP1 and in close attendance in FP2.
Championship leader Rosberg, 11 points clear of Hamilton, was four-tenths of a second adrift, followed closely by Daniel Ricciardo in his Red Bull.
The Australian, eager to put behind him the team's failed appeal this week against his disqualification from the season-opening race in Australia, was 0.496secs down.
Notably, Ricciardo was again ahead of reigning four-time champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel who was exactly seven-tenths of a second down.
Williams' Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in his Ferrari were sixth and seventh-quickest, both inside a second of Hamilton.
The Finn, who had been consigned to the garage for all but one installation lap in FP1 due to a technical problem, at least managed 25 laps in FP2.
McLaren's Jenson Button, the Lotus of Romain Grosjean and Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat completed the top 10, all just over a second down on Hamilton.
There was embarrassment for the second Lotus driven by Pastor Maldonado, however, as he crashed on the entry lane into the pits.
It is an area that has occasionally caught out some, most notably in 2007 when Hamilton slid off and beached his car in the gravel when he had that year's world title in his grasp.
Venezuelan Maldonado was simply returning to the pits, but with too much speed as he ran across the gravel and into the tyre wall.
Marussia's Max Chilton, who has so far finished all 22 of the grands prix in which he has competed, was down in 20th, with both Caterhams behind him.