German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari in action during the third practice session at Shanghai international circuit in Shanghai, China, 08 April 2017. The 2017 Chinese Formula One Grand Prix will take place on 09 April. EPA

SHANGHAI: Sebastian Vettel blazed to the fastest time in Saturday practice at the Chinese Grand Prix, ahead of Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel, who won Formula One’s season opener in Melbourne two weeks ago, laid down another marker before afternoon qualifying as he sped around the Shanghai circuit in a blistering time of one minute 33.336 seconds.

That was faster than the quickest pole-position time ever in China, which the German four-time world champion himself set for Red Bull back in 2011.

Raikkonen was close on his heels, clocking one minute 33.389, with Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes third, followed by Hamilton as the top four were separated by a little over half a second.

Hamilton, a three-time Formula One world champion, pushed hard to catch Vettel but ran wide at the hairpin and had to settle for a time of 1:33.879.

Brazil’s Felipe Massa was fifth quickest for Williams in 1:34.773 ahead of the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Lance Stroll’s Williams, the Renault of Jolyon Palmer and Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso rounded out the top 10.

Saturday’s third practice was the first full session drivers had in Shanghai after the previous day’s running was cut short due to murky weather and poor air quality.

Teams mixed softs and super-softs in a bid to gather as much data as possible following Friday’s washout.

F1 officials halted Friday’s runs because poor visibility would have prevented the race’s medical helicopter from being able to safely land at designated hospitals in the event of a crash requiring an evacuation.

Both sessions were curtailed without Hamilton, Vettel or Raikkonen logging a timed lap.

Conditions were drier and clearer for FP3 but officials will be crossing their fingers for the race on Sunday, with inclement weather expected to return.

Hamilton and defending champions Mercedes are looking to bounce back after their wake-up call in the season opener in Melbourne, where Vettel steered his Ferrari to a commanding victory. --AFP

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