Alexander Albon survives stunning crash in Chinese practice

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in action during practice REUTERS  Thomas Peter

The youngster was only minutes away from closing out the session when he lost control of his Toro Rosso and spun into the barriers, mangling his vehicle.

Bottas clocked a leading time of one minute 32.830 seconds, 0.392 seconds ahead of Vettel and 0.418 of Leclerc.

Wolff said that the extra speed carried in the corners was what kept Mercedes ahead of the Ferrari's in qualifying.

Sebastian Vettel was a third of a second down on Bottas' Silver Arrows, with team-mate Charles Leclerc fourth. Red Bull Racing were the next two, with Max Verstappen finishing fifth and Pierre Gasly in sixth.

Albon sat still for an agonizing moment before apologizing to his team over the radio. As a result, the auto needed rebuilding around a new chassis and ruled him out of qualifying, but Albon says the hit was not too painful despite needing to be checked in the medical center. I think the racing auto is a package of the power unit and the chassis and you need to get the job done in both of those areas.

"Ferrari still seem to be quicker than us on the straights, whereas we were better in most corners in FP2 (the second session)". It was also his first in China where Mercedes have won five of the last seven races.

Bottas, the quicker Mercedes driver all weekend in Shanghai, found his advantage cut by Hamilton to just 0.023 seconds as the world champion finally found pace.

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"We made it to the top of the timesheets but it is always very hard to find a good balance through an entire lap on this track", said Bottas.

Wolff is expecting an exciting start to the race and also highlighted the burgeoning rivalry between Ferrari's two drivers, Vettel and Leclerc, after Leclerc upset the team's hierarchy in Bahrain by outperforming his more experienced teammate.

The youngster's session ended early as he parked up in the garage with some 20 minutes to go so that Ferrari could carry out cooling checks. "We will check it but no big issues".

Hamilton was second fastest in the morning but struggled in the afternoon. "There was a little bit more time left on the table there but that's cool, I'll try and get it tomorrow", added Hamilton. "As a result of the accident, we are changing the PU and sending the one that was in the auto at the time of the crash back to Sakura for a full check".

McLaren rookie Lando Norris, fresh from having scored his first Formula One points in Bahrain, was eighth for McLaren ahead of Ricciardo.

Team mate Russian Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10.

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