LEWIS Hamilton is relishing the prospect of fighting for a podium place this weekend following an encouraging start to his Chinese Grand Prix campaign.
With his McLaren sporting an upgrade, Hamilton finished quickest at the end of a changeable first practice session at the Shanghai International Circuit, and second to Mercedes' Michael Schumacher in the later 90-minute run by 0.172seconds.
With Hamilton at least looking strong, the 27-year-old certainly starts favourite to finish quickest in qualifying, even if he will not start from pole on Sunday. That is because of a five-place grid penalty Hamilton will incur due to a change of gearbox that will take place tomorrow after a fault was discovered earlier in the week.
Despite that, after mastering the cold, damp, grey conditions, with temperatures hitting a maximum of 15°C, Hamilton said: "It's been a great day.
"It stayed dry in the afternoon so we successfully got through our run programme.
"We're still working away to improve the set-up, but the new bits on the car seem to be working.
"The guys back at the factory have done a great job.
"We look competitive, and I've been particularly focusing on the longer runs for this weekend. We still need to make a few improvements, but our car looks good."
After starting on pole at the opening two races in Australia and Malaysia, only to finish third in both, Hamilton said: "I'll be changing the gearbox on my car before P3 (third practice). It's going to be a close qualifying session tomorrow. It'll be a battle."
It was a different tale for team-mate Jenson Button, who struggled to get any heat into his tyres and subsequently finished three quarters of a second behind Schumacher, who posted a time of one minute 35.973 seconds in his Mercedes.
"It's been a tricky day, but there's a lot of good information to go through -- we'll find a better direction overnight," said Button.