Lewis Hamilton climbs into his Mercedes for the second free practice ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix. Picture: Luca Bruno / AP

Shanghai, China - Lewis Hamilton set the pace for Mercedes in free practice on Friday for the Chinese Grand Prix but Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was just a whisker behind as the rival teams headed for another clash in this weekend's race.

Hamilton topped the time sheet with a best lap of 1m33.482, just .007 seconds ahead of Raikkonen in windy, moist conditions. Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third, followed by current season leader Sebastian Vettel for Ferrari, with just 0.108s separating the top four.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen had to settle for fifth, followed by Nico Hulkenberg for Renault. Kevin Magnusson was seventh for Haas, ahead of Renault's Carlos Sainz and Verstappen's teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Double former world champion Fernando Alonso, in a McLaren, rounded out the top 10.

Mercedes anxious for a win

The annual battle between the sport's two giants has taken on an unexpected complexion, with Mercedes anxious for a win in Shanghai after Vettel won in both Australia and Bahrain. Mercedes is hoping to get back on track on a circuit where Hamilton is tough to beat. In addition to five victories, he's taken pole six times in 11 attempts.

Vettel and Hamilton are each chasing a fifth world title this year. Vettel raced to victory in Australia to open the Formula One season, following up with a tense triumph over champions Mercedes last weekend in Bahrain.

Ferrari has capitalised on a range of problems afflicting the champion, from software bugs to communication problems and grid penalties, but team principal Toto Wolff has vowed Mercedes will bring its "A game" in Shanghai.

A light rain coated the track in the final minutes of the second session. The first session was dry despite the threat of rain on a chilly, windy day, but rain is forecast for Saturday qualifying, with race day expected to be dry.

RESULTS - Second Free Practice Session

1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1m33.482s

2 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:33.489

3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1:33.515

4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:33.590

5 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:33.823

6 Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) 1:34.313

7 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) 1:34.458

8 Carlos Sainz Jr (Renault) 1:34.473

9 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:34.557

10 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) 1:34.632

11 Sergio Perez (Force India) 1:34.792

12 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) 1:34.849

13 Estéban Ocon (Force India) 1:34.874

14 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) 1:35.163

15 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) 1:35.333

16 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) 1:35.340

17 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) 1:35.624

18 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) 1:35.916

19 Romain Grosjean (Haas) 1:36.471

20 Lance Stroll (Williams) 1:37.147

Agence France-Presse