Sebastian Vettel responded to his disappointing showing in Bahrain by setting the fastest lap in opening practice ahead of Formula One’s 1,000th race.
The Ferrari driver left the last round under a cloud after he was beaten by his team-mate Charles Leclerc. He also spun for a fourth time in his last 10 appearances.
But here in Shanghai, the four-time world champion set the quickest time of the first running, finishing 0.207 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton with Leclerc third.
Ferrari held a speed advantage over Mercedes in Bahrain, and that form appears to have carried through to China.
Indeed, neither Ferrari driver used the fastest tyre available this weekend.
Hamilton, who has won five times in China, will be pleased to have split the two red machines.
His team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, who leads the championship by a single point, finished a distant fifth, three-quarters of a second off the pace.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth, within half a second of Vettel’s best time.
British teenager Lando Norris delivered McLaren’s best result in more than a year after his fine drive to sixth in Bahrain a fortnight ago.
The 19-year-old finished 13th on Friday, 1.7 sec adrift of Vettel, but was more than a tenth ahead of Carlos Sainz in the sister McLaren.
Britain’s other novice George Russell propped up the order for Williams, nearly four seconds off the pace, and behind team-mate Robert Kubica.
Elsewhere, Daniel Ricciardo finished an encouraging sixth for Renault, one place ahead of Pierre Gasly, the driver who replaced the Australian at Red Bull.