Hamilton recalling 2008 form

SHANGHAI -- McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton says his car is back to its 2008 championship-winning best.

Hamilton had the best time at Friday's practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, ahead of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg. Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher of Mercedes were third and fourth.

"It's reminiscent of a 2008 kind of balance, and hopefully that will enable us to be competitive tomorrow in qualifying," Hamilton said, recalling his Formula One title-winning year.

After botched qualifying sessions in Australia and Malaysia, Hamilton was eyeing a front-row grid spot and a chance to claim his first win of the season.

"In the past two races, our race pace was good but we had to come from too far back," Hamilton said. "Ideally, tomorrow we'd like to get into Q3 and have a top-five start, which will enable us to have a competitive run for the win."

The Red Bull cars of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were fifth and sixth, though their pace in the longer runs was similar to McLaren. The team is aiming for consecutive 1-2 finishes, both this season and in China.

"It looks very close. The Mercedes look competitive, as well as the McLarens and Ferraris," Vettel said.

Championship leader Ferrari had Fernando Alonso in 10th and Felipe Massa 11th.

Mercedes had a strong showing, close to McLaren's times. However, the team was not heralding a victory challenge in China.

"I am quite confident for the rest of the weekend, even if the overall ranking will not change much from the first three races," Schumacher said. "We seem to have got closer to some of the guys in front, but we have to prove that on Sunday."