Practice 1

Reigning world champion Jenson Button topped practice 1, the Brit getting his McLaren around the Shanghai International Circuit in a time of 1:36.677. He finished less than a tenth of a second clear of both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, with Sebastien Vettel, Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov completing the top 6.

But the big news of the first session was an almighty crash for Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi.

Think you've had a bad day at the office? Bet your office's wheels never sheered off at 300+kmh. © LAT/Autosport

With 15 minutes remaining Buemi was approaching turn 14 at 320kmh. But, as he braked for the corner both- that’s right, both- of the Toro Rosso’s front wheels sheered off, sending the car, now basically a missile, hurtling in to the barriers. Amazingly neither Buemi nor any spectators were hurt. There are worries over the lack of fans at the circuit this weekend, but with Toro Rosso wheels flying in to the stands it might be for the best.

A team spokesperson said the accident was ’caused by the failure of the front-right upright’, and that the left side failed too ‘because once one upright fails the loads on the remaining one are too great’.

What Buemi said when his car came to a halt almost certainly isn’t printable on a family website.

It was a bad start to Fernando Alonso’s weekend too. The Ferrari driver- who won here at Shanghai in 2005- wouldn’t claim to have had as rough a ride as Buemi, but he suffered his own frustration with an engine failure in practice 1. He’d failed to set a lap time, and needed a new engine for the 2nd session. A terrible start to Alonso’s weekend.

So a good start for the McLaren- can they carry this pace throughout the weekend?

Practice 2

Practice 2 was less eventful in comparison, with all wheels remaining firmly attached to the cars. Buemi sat the session out, but the other 23 cars, including a fresh engined Fernando Alonso, hit the track.

And once again it was a McLaren on top. After Jenson’s session topping time earlier it was Lewis Hamilton who set the fastest lap in practice 2, with Nico Rosberg again 2nd. Button was 3rd quickest, so the same top 3 from the first session were again on form in the second.

So a good start to the weekend for McLaren. Okay, practice times don’t automatically translate in to qualifying and the race, but it’s a confidence boost nonetheless. The big question is, which of the two drivers will be quickest in qualifying?

All smiles at McLaren as their boys swapped fastest laps. Happy days, but for how long? © LAT/Autosport

Not a bad session for the Mercedes team either, with practice expert Rosberg again right up there and Michael Schumacher setting the 4th fastest lap in practice 2. They’ll be hoping to mix it with McLaren in qualifying.

Once again the Red Bulls had a quiet session. This year’s pacesetters have tended to stay under the radar in practice thus far before turning the speed on in qualifying. In practice 2 Vettel was 5th and Webber 6th, but we definitely expect them to be right up there in qualifying.

A quiet session too for Ferrari, with Alonso 10th and Felipe Massa 11th . Like Red Bull they’ve not tended to push for the fastest lap in practice, and that seems to be the case again today. But following Alonso’s engine problems this morning his preparations have been affected. Maybe championship leader Massa is the man from Maranello to back.

Making it in to the top 10 in practice 2 were three drivers who impressed last time out in Malaysia: Adrian Sutil, Jaime Alguersuari and Robert Kubica were 7th, 8th and 9th respectively. All three have been doing a solid job this season and look well placed to have another good weekend in China.

And at the back it was the usual suspects- ie. the new teams- with Lotus coming out best. Jarno Trulli was 18th with teammate Heikki Kovalainen 19th in practice 2.

So, having taken this info on board you might want to make some changes to you Fantasy Grand Prix team. Maybe Alonso’s engine change means he’s a bad bet for the race win, or perhaps the McLaren’s pace suggests they’re the team to back in China. And what about Sebastien Buemi? Cars without wheels don’t usually excel in F1.

Finally, one of the biggest questions of this weekend is whether Michael Schumacher can finally kick-start his F1 comeback with a good result in China. Well, he wont be short of support, with a huge number of pro-Schumi fans at the Shanghai circuit this weekend. Can Michael please his public? Badger will have full coverage of the weekend as it unfolds. Stay tuned.

Schumacher fans welcome back their hero with this somewhat nonsensical banner © Sutton/Autosport