By Abhishek Takle
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets ahead of Nico Rosberg as Mercedes regained their dominant stride in the first free practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday.
Hamilton lapped the 5.451 km Shanghai International Circuit in one minute, 39.033 seconds, the Briton half a second quicker than his German team mate.
The Ferraris were the next quickest as Sebastian Vettel finished the 90-minute session third ahead of Kimi Raikkonen with Mercedes all too aware of the threat posed by their Italian rivals.
"So that's a wrap chapettes and chaps. P1 for Mr Hamilton, P2 for Mr Rosberg. Our Italian friends lurking ominously in P3 and P4," Mercedes tweeted at the end of the session.
Vettel had roared to a shock maiden win for Ferrari at the last race in Malaysia, benefiting from a bold strategy and searing track temperatures to end Mercedes eight-race winning streak.
However, the cooler Shanghai weather appears to have relegated Ferrari to the role of best-of-the-rest once more, with Vettel ending the morning more than a second slower than Hamilton's benchmark despite a late improvement.
Sauber's Felipe Nasr continued the bright start to his rookie season as a race driver by ending the session fifth quickest, possibly inspired by the word "victory" emblazoned on the side of his helmet in Arabic.
The Brazilian came home ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, who were driving with new brakes after the team changed suppliers for this weekend after struggling in Malaysia.
Carlos Sainz was eighth quickest in a Toro Rosso as Williams, who emerged as Mercedes' closest challengers at the end of last season but have been overtaken by Ferrari this year, kept a low-profile throughout the morning.
Valtteri Bottas set the ninth-fastest time while Massa, who spun late in the session, rounded out the top 10.
McLaren will have been encouraged by their morning's work as the team again appears to have made some minor progress after a troubled start to the season.
Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso had qualified 17th and 18th in Malaysia before both cars retired during the race and the pair had expected the team's struggles to continue in China.
However, the Briton briefly breached the top-10 before eventually ending the opening morning 13th fastest with his Spanish team mate (17th) a further three-tenths of a second behind in a tightly-packed mid-division.
(Editing by John O'Brien)