The Brazilian set a time of one minute 35.340 on the soft tyre, over a tenth of a second quicker than Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus, with Fernando Alonso in the second Ferrari over four-tenths of a second slower than his team-mate in third.
“I was not really happy in the beginning on the medium tyres when we were not even so quick compared to other cars. But looking how much we improved with the soft tyres, I think that was maybe amazing,” Massa told reporters in the Shanghai paddock.
He continued: “I think I did a good lap on the softs. I think that’s positive and the degradation on the tyres for the race, I think the long run was not bad. “So, confident for the weekend. I hope we can do everything we did today, tomorrow and on Sunday as well.”
Massa’s session-topping time deposed Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg from the top of the timesheets. Both Mercedes looked quick yesterday, with Rosberg heading teammate Lewis Hamilton for a Silver Arrows one-two in the first session.
Rosberg, who won here last year, initially seemed to have carried that speed over into the second session but the German eventually ended the day fourth fastest ahead of Mark Webber who was the best of the Red Bulls in fifth.
Jenson Button ended the day sixth in the McLaren ahead of former teammate Hamilton. The Force India duo of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta were next, while Sebastian Vettel, winner of the last race in Malaysia, rounded out the top ten.
Not for the first time this year, talk after practice was all about the tyres. Pirelli have brought their medium and soft compound tyres to China, with the latter being used for the first time this year and falling apart after only a few laps, prompting complaints from drivers. But the softer tyre is much quicker over one lap compared to the medium, which is the preferred race tyre.
This is likely to put teams, especially those that make it into the top ten but aren’t realistically fighting for pole, in a dilemma. Do they choose not to run in the final part of qualifying so they can then opt for the medium tyre to start the race on, or do they opt for the soft and try and start as high up the grid as possible even if it means they would have to stop early on in the race?
“Maybe, yes, some will try,” Force India’s Adrian Sutil said after practice. “I expect no one going longer than six to eight laps (on the soft tyre),” the German said.