Hamilton leads Massa in China practice

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa slugged it out for supremacy today in the first practice session ahead of Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.

The two title protagonists went head to head during the 90-minute run at the Shanghai International Circuit, with Hamilton eventually taking the honours.

The McLaren driver, under pressure in the wake of his first-corner mistake in Sunday's race in Japan, currently holds a slender five-point lead over Massa with just two races remaining.

But as if to prove he has shrugged off the adverse reaction to what unfolded, the 23-year-old McLaren star finished a comfortable 0.390 seconds ahead of Massa.

The duo traded fastest laps until Hamilton finally edged ahead prior to cementing top spot with a time of one minute 35.630secs for the 5.451km track.

Hamilton did have his moments, though, as he twice ran wide at high speed at two different parts of the circuit but on both occasions recovered superbly.

Behind Massa came outgoing champion and Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who will pass on his crown to either the Brazilian or Hamilton, with BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica an outside shot.

Raikkonen finished marginally behind Massa, with McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen fourth quickest followed by Kubica, who is 12 points adrift of Hamilton.

Fernando Alonso, winner of the last two races in Singapore and Japan, was the best of the rest albeit a fraction over a second down on Hamilton.

Kubica's BMW Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld was seventh with Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Vettel eighth and 10th, sandwiching the second Renault of Nelson Piquet.

With 10 minutes of the session remaining, Piquet slid off the pit lane entry and trundled across the gravel trap.

The Brazilian just managed to claw his way out before making his way to his pit box, with television cameras then swiftly cutting to Hamilton.

The Briton was sat in his car inside the McLaren garage staring at the tv monitor positioned over his cockpit and his eyes were clearly smiling.

It was no wonder as Hamilton slid off at exactly the same spot on severely-worn tyres and on a damp track, an incident that helped wreck his title dreams.

Hamilton's reaction appeared to suggest that what happened to him can happen to anyone.

The bottom 10 was headed by Red Bull's Mark Webber with Jenson Button 12th in his Honda and David Coulthard 14th in his Red Bull but two seconds down on Hamilton.

Unsurprisingly, the bottom two places were occupied by the Force India duo of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella, the latter almost three seconds adrift.

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