Lewis Hamilton leaves pit lane for the first free practice session ahead of the Chineae Grand Prix. Picture: Aly Song / Reuters

Shanghai, China - Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the opening practice session for the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix on Friday with championship leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari only sixth quickest at the Shanghai International Circuit.

Hamilton lapped the 5.4km circuit in one minute, 33.999 seconds, 0.359 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn’s best effort was set on the grippier ultra-soft tyres while Hamilton’s was on softs.

Vettel, winner of the first two races in Australia and Bahrain, was 0.862 seconds off Hamilton’s pace.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas was third fastest ahead of Red Bull pair Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

German Vettel, the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004 to open the season with back-to-back wins, leads fellow four-times champion Hamilton by 17 points.

Putting a spin on cooler track temperatures

In a session of little drama, both Verstappen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne spun off into the gravel before rejoining, while Hamilton also had a minor spin as drivers tried to get to grips with the cooler track temperatures.

Dane Kevin Magnussen set the seventh-fastest time for American outfit Haas with Renault's Carlos Sainz eighth and the other Haas driver Romain Grosjean ninth.

Sainz's team mate Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10. Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who steered his Honda-powered Toro Rosso to fourth last Sunday in Bahrain, was 11th quickest, edging out the Japanese manufacturer’s former partners McLaren, who had Fernando Alonso in 12th.

Williams, enduring their worst start to a season since 2013, continued to struggle with Russian Sergey Sirotkin 15th and Lance Stroll propping up the timesheets in last place.

RESULTS

1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1m33.999s

2 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) 1:34.358

3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1:34.457

4 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:34.537

5 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:34.668

5 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:34.861

7 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) 1:35.178

8 Carlos Sainz (Renault) 1:35.616

9 Romain Grosjean (Haas) 1:35.718

10 Nico Hulkenberg  (Renault) 1:35.800

11 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) 1:36.037

12 Fernando Alonso  (McLaren) 1:36.044

13 Sergio Perez (Force India) 1:36.051

14 Esteban Ocon (Forces India) 1:36.351

15 Sergei Sirotkin (Williams) 1:36.691

16 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) 1:36.715

17 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) 1:36.723

18 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) 1:36.756

19 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) 1:36.909

20 Lance Stroll (Williams) 1:37.277