By Abhishek Takle
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton returned Mercedes to the top of the timesheets on Friday by setting the fastest time in the second practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix.
Hamilton completed 25 laps of the 5.4 kilometer Shanghai International Circuit in the afternoon to end the day with a best time of one minute 38.315 seconds.
His Formula One championship leading team mate Nico Rosberg was third, the German lapping four tenths of a second slower than Hamilton's benchmark on a cool and hazy afternoon at the circuit located on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who had topped the weekend's opening session, split the two Mercedes in second.
The Spaniard, watched by the team's new boss Marco Mattiacci, carried his timesheet-topping form from the morning session over into the afternoon.
Alonso's best lap was just a tenth off Hamilton's benchmark effort, and the double world champion was swapping the fastest time with Rosberg's Mercedes for most of the second 90-minute session before the focus switched to high-fuel long runs.
Despite ending the day fastest, it was far from a trouble-free day for Hamilton.
The 2008 world champion, gunning for his first hat-trick of wins this weekend, completed just nine laps and set the eighth fastest time in the morning session after a suspension problem limited his running.
The issue persisted into the afternoon and Hamilton was forced to sit out the opening 30 minutes of the second session as his team worked to fix the problem.
However, despite being sent out to join the on-track action, the Briton didn't seem comfortable in his car and radioed his team to complain about its handling.
Kimi Raikkonen was another driver whose Friday running was hampered by technical glitches. The Ferrari driver was forced to sit out the first session but managed to rack up 25 laps in the afternoon on his way to the seventh-fastest time.
Daniel Ricciardo, who had set the third fastest time in the morning, continued to lead the charge for reigning world champions Red Bull, ending the day fourth-fastest ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado, who had caused some amusement when he drove off the track and spun while changing some settings on his steering wheel on Friday morning, was the only casualty in the second session.
The Venezuelan, who carries a five-place grid penalty into Sunday's race, ran wide while turning into the pits and drove into a tire barrier, bringing an end to his session after just 12 laps.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)