Rivals keep pressure on Hamilton in China

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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 today's practice sessions for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Ferrari's Raikkonen, who trails the British rookie by 17 points with 20 at stake in the last two races of the season, swept around the circuit in one minute, 36.607 seconds late in the second session to lay down his marker for the weekend.

''A good day, even if Friday results have to be considered for what they are, given that we do not know what our main rivals are up to,'' the Finn told reporters. ''I'm expecting a close fight tomorrow.'' World champion Alonso, 12 points behind McLaren team mate Hamilton, was second quickest by just 0.006 seconds in 1.36.613 ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa in 1:36.630 in the other Ferrari.

''I will not give up,'' said Alonso. ''I'm more relaxed than normal ... it's not up to me anymore, I need a combination of results to help me.'' Hamilton, who was fourth quickest 0.269 seconds behind Raikkonen, will be Formula One world champion on Sunday if he wins or beats both Alonso and Raikkonen.

First, though, the 22-year-old had a nervous wait for the result of an inquiry into his driving behind the safety car at last week's rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix.

In the event, Formula One stewards imposed no penalty on him but the Briton was clearly upset by the allegations even if he remained confident of a good showing in his first race in Shanghai.

''I am looking forward to the rest of the weekend where I expect we have every chance for another strong result,'' he said.

MCLAREN MONOPOLY Hamilton set the early pace in the afternoon session but Alonso soon overhauled him and the championship rivals monopolised the top of the time sheets for the first hour.

The Briton, however, came off the track and into the gravel at the end of a flying lap and from then on it looked like Alonso would take the opening day honours until Raikkonen's late charge.

Italian Jarno Trulli was fifth fastest on a rare good day for Toyota with his departing German team mate Ralf Schumacher seventh quickest behind Red Bull's Webber.

''We've had a poor run of form but now we must forget everything and concentrate on this weekend,'' said Trulli.

BMW-Sauber's Nick Heidfeld had a disappointing day after his car was pushed back to the garage in both sessions when hydraulic leaks caused him to grind to a halt by the side of the track.

REUTERS BJR PM1900

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