Nico Rosberg was comfortably fastest, almost half a second quicker than team mate Lewis Hamilton and nearly a second up on Mark Webber’s Red Bull.
Sunny conditions greeted drivers at the track for the first hour and a half of running. Following the usual half-hour lull after the first installation laps Jenson Button led the early running with a time of 1’38.262.
Kimi Raikkonen joined the track moments after and had just gone third fastest when he spun between turns nine and ten, without damaging the Lotus.
The Mercedes drivers returned to the track shortly afterwards and it was Rosberg who led the way, swapping best sector times with Hamilton, who had been unwell on Thursday.
Behind the two Red Bulls Fernando Alonso was fifth-quickest, followed by Jenson Button an Adrian Sutil. Both Force Indias were in the top ten along with Romain Grosjean’s Lotus.
Esteban Gutierrez joined Raikkonen in going off the track. The Sauber driver understeered wide in the long first corner.
Ma Qing Hua became the first non-race driver to appear in practice this year. More significantly he was also the first Chinese driver to participate in his home race weekend.
As the session came to an end Sergio Perez attacked the pit-lane entry too hard and understeered off into the barrier. He came to a stop in the same gravel trap where his McLaren’s predecessor Lewis Hamilton’s race famously ended in 2007.