SHANGHAI, April 18, 2014 (AFP) - Fernando Alonso brought some welcome cheer to Ferrari after a troubled week by setting the fastest time in first practice for the Chinese grand prix on Friday.
However it was a mixed morning for the Italian giants and their new team principal Marco Mattiacci, who was installed after Stefano Domenicali dramatically quit on Monday, as Kimi Raikkonen was unable to complete a timed lap after mechanical problems.
Alonso clocked 1min 39.783sec with championship leader Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes second, 0.398sec behind, and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo third, 0.989sec behind the Ferrari.
On a chilly morning with temperatures in Shanghai hovering around the 13 degrees Celsius mark, many drivers suffered from lack of heat in their tyres and struggled with braking in the cool conditions.
In the first half-hour on the harder medium-compound tyres, Rosberg became the first driver to dip below 1min 41sec for the 5.451km lap of the Shanghai International circuit.
He was followed closely in the initial laps by Alonso, just 0.464sec behind and already showing good pace.
But at this stage the times were mere benchmarks as the teams sought to fine-tune their aerodynamic set-ups, tyres and brakes and gather valuable data in the coldest conditions of the season so far.
Trouble for Raikonnen
Raikkonen's mechanical misfortune did, however, give him a chance to make the acquaintance of new boss Mattiacci, who finally made an appearance in Shanghai this week when he strolled into the Ferrari garage at the start of the session looking relaxed.
Mattiacci was due to meet the media later on Friday and face his first inquisition as chief of the struggling Formula One giants.
Raikkonen's car spent most of the 90-minute session on jacks with mechanics frantically working on the front end of the car, which has a new chassis after cracks were discovered in the old one after Bahrain.
There were no such problems for Alonso, who soon became the only man under 1min 40sec, and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who continued to outpace team-mate Sebastian Vettel by clocking the third fastest lap, albeit almost a second down on Alonso.
Rosberg improved his own time, to close the gap on Alonso to four-tenths, but then the German locked his brakes at turn six and left the circuit briefly but was able to continue.
Vettel was the next to err, spinning at turn 10, having only set the ninth fastest time of the session, almost a full two seconds down on Alonso and clearly struggling still with his Red Bull set-up.
Lewis Hamilton, victor in the previous two races in Malaysia and Bahrain, was surprisingly off the pace in the second Mercedes, recording only the eighth fastest lap at 1min 41.560sec.
McLaren showed good early pace with Jenson Button fourth fastest and Kevin Magnussen sixth.
They were split by Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India but it was Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso who gained most from the session, completing 26 laps, more than any other driver, and coming in with a very respectable seventh fastest lap of 1min 41.366sec.
A couple of reserve drivers got a run in the first session with Williams installing Felipe Nasr in the seat of Valtteri Bottas and Giedo van der Garde filling in for Sauber's Adrian Sutil.