Lewis Hamilton may have battled back on Friday to set the fastest time in the second practice, but all eyes were on Ferrari as the new principal took the helm for the Chinese Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso, who posted the second fastest lap in the afternoon after leading the first session, brought welcome cheer to Ferrari after a troubled week.
Championship leader Nico Rosberg was third fastest in his Mercedes followed by the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in fourth and fifth respectively.
It was a mixed day for Ferrari and their new team principal Marco Mattiacci, who was installed after Stefano Domenicali dramatically quit on Monday.
Kimi Raikkonen was unable to complete a lap in the morning with mechanical problems and then could post only the seventh fastest time when he finally managed to get out of the Ferrari garage in the afternoon.
Hamilton clocked one minute 38.315 seconds on the quicker soft tyre compound, despite complaining of understeer into turn one.
The Englishman lost almost an hour of track time over the two 90-minute practice sessions, as his engineers worked on trying to improve his problematic front suspension, which had left him languishing in eighth place in the first session.
"It's great to be still up front even though we have those issues," he said. "But, still, you want to get the car ready. You want to get the long runs feeling a little better, so there's some work to do."
Late in the session Hamilton, despite being quickest, again got on the radio to complain: "Something's not right with this car."
Alonso was only a fraction behind Hamilton in 1:38.456 with Rosberg a further 0.270 behind.
"I am happy with what we have done today," Alonso said. "At every race, all the teams bring something new and we must try to take an additional step forward if we want to be competitive."
Felipe Massa demonstrated that his Williams was improving by being sixth fastest with a lap of 1:39.118.
In the morning on the medium compound tyres Alonso had clocked 1:39.783 to lead the pack with championship leader Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes second, 0.398 behind. "We're still looking pretty decent at the moment," Rosberg said. "The competitors are pushing - today, Ferrari were very close."
After a chilly morning with the mercury in Shanghai hovering around the 13 degrees Celsius mark, temperatures rose slightly to 16 degrees for the second free practice at the 5.451 kilometre Shanghai International Circuit.
The cool conditions meant many drivers suffered from lack of heat in their tyres and struggled with braking throughout the two sessions.
Pastor Maldonado in the Lotus had a torrid day. In the first session he spun while fiddling with his steering wheel.
And, after several errors in the second practice, his session ended prematurely when he lost concentration again and drove heavily into the tyre barrier at the entrance to the pit lane, wrecking the front of his car.
"I crashed," he exclaimed over the team radio. "Oh OK," came the reply. "I'm sorry," added Maldonado, sheepishly.
Additional reporting by Associated Press