SHANGHAI, Oct 5 (Reuters) Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso gave notice they have not given up hope of catching championship leader Lewis Hamilton by setting the fastest times in first practice for the Chinese Grand Prix today.
Ferrari's Raikkonen, who trails the British rookie by 17 points with just 20 at stake in the last two races of the season, swept around the 5.451 km circuit in one minute, 37.024 seconds.
World champion Alonso, 12 points behind McLaren team mate Hamilton coming into the penultimate race of the season, was second quickest in 1.37.108 ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa in 1:37.128 in the other Ferrari.
Hamilton, who was fourth quickest but just 0.186 seconds behind Raikkonen, will be world champion on Sunday if he wins or beats both Alonso and Raikkonen.
First, though, the 22-year-old must wait for the result of an inquiry into his driving behind the safety car at last week's rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix, which could cost him 10 places on the grid for the start of Sunday's race.
Formula One stewards, who are assessing claims that Hamilton drove erratically and helped cause Sebastian Vettel to crash into Mark Webber, are expected to come to a decision later today.
Hamilton looked untroubled by the controversy and, although he and both Ferraris spent some time on the grass verge at the Shanghai International Circuit, they all managed to get back on track quite easily.
BMW-Sauber's Nick Heidfeld ground to a halt with flames flickering from the back of his car halfway through the session but pushed his machine back to the pit lane.
The Williams of Nico Rosberg was fifth fastest ahead of Heidfeld's Polish team mate Robert Kubica with Italian Jarno Trulli seventh on the time sheets for Toyota.
REUTERS TB BST1056