FORMULA 1 star Lewis Hamilton is looking to spring a Shanghai surprise in qualifying for the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ace from Hertfordshire was second fastest in today’s (Friday’s) afternoon free practice session around the spectacular Shanghai International Circuit in China.
He completed 29 laps of the track, recording a best lap of 1m 36.145s to finish behind Mercedes GP hero Michael Schumacher on the timesheets.
The 2008 F1 world champion from Tewin had earlier gone quickest in a damp opening session in Shanghai.
McLaren teammate Jenson Button struggled with his tyres and was eighth in P1 and sixth in the second practice session.
Hamilton lines up in qualifying on Saturday morning aware that he’ll face a five-place grid penalty for a change of gearbox. As a result, he’ll be looking to post the fastest qualifying time for the third race in a row.
Speaking after practice in China, Hamilton said: “We look competitive – and I’ve been particularly focusing on the longer runs for this weekend.
“We still need to make a few improvements but our car looks good.”
He added: “I’ll be changing the gearbox on my car before P3.
“It’s going to be a close qualifying session tomorrow [Saturday].
“It’ll be a good battle and hopefully we can start as high up the grid as possible because I think we’ll still be in the race and among the leading group.
“I love the challenge of coming through and gaining positions.”
On today’s performance, Hamilton said: “It’s been a great day – it stayed dry in the afternoon so we successfully got through our run programme.
“We’re still working away to improve the set-up, but the new bits on the car seem to be working: the guys back at the factory have done a great job.”
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh said: “Today’s low temperatures meant it was difficult to chase the optimum tyre performance – particularly on Jenson’s side of the garage.
“However, there were plenty of positives to take away from today: our car looks to be quick, the upgrade package that we brought to this race also seems to be a positive step, and our long-run pace is also promising.
“This evening, we’ll be looking closely at how to best match the set-up to the tyre temperatures, and working further to refine the balance of the car, but this is undoubtedly a good place from which to start.”
Qualifying for the 2012 Grand Prix of China starts at 7am on Saturday.
The race starts at 8am on Sunday.