Lewis Hamilton fastest on one of his favourite tracks

While Ferrari have managed to make the fast start, Mercedes will be desperate not to let Vettel pull away any further this weekend.

Valtteri Bottas was third quickest, 0.099s behind Raikkonen but like his teammate he had opted to run the soft tyre for his best lap, the only two drivers of the top seven to do so.

The Mercedes perhaps still has a small advantage, as Raikkonen set his fastest time a little later in the session when the track grip levels would have improved.

In FP1 Hamilton had been over 0.35s clear of Kimi Raikkonen while using a harder compound of tire, but the second practice session saw the gap reduced to just 0.007s as the front-runners all carried out lower fuel runs on the ultrasoft tire.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands pauses during a press conference at the Shanghai International Circuit ahead of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai, Thursday, April 12.

"I wonder if he's doing his homework for a very early stage for race-day, particularly as it could be raining later", speculated Sky F1's Anthony Davidson ahead of P2.

But Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said this week that it was "not the start to the 2018 season we had hoped for". The 33-year-old has enjoyed more success in the race on the outskirts of Shanghai than any other driver, winning it for an unprecedented fifth time last year.

"But also I know in my mind that okay, there are 19 races to go".

"My thoughts are already on the world championship - I've lost two races in a row now and I am 17 points down after just two races". I'm definitely not one that likes losing, I've never made that a secret.

"It was a good day and we got through all the laps that we needed and got some good feedback from the auto", Hamilton said. "I'm comfortable with the way that I handle it but I am able to turn it into a positive into my next challenge". There's no reason for me to change anything.

Being a global superstar, Hamilton has grown accustomed to the royal welcome he receives from fans all over the world.

"Even if Max had hung around the outside [through Turn 2] I just think Max would have had him regardless. There are so many things that keep the ball afloat", Hamilton said. "I just remember texting in the beginning of the week", said Hamilton.

These are the tiny margins that may define this season and they are noticeable given that Mercedes' dominance of the turbo-hybrid era has been marked by a team executing every aspect of racing nearly flawlessly.

  • Julie Sanders