Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have a point to prove at the Shanghai International Circuit after being outdone by Ferrari in the first two races of the season.
Hamilton overcame a five-place grid penalty to finish third in last weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, with Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel holding off Valtteri Bottas's challenge to win his second consecutive race.
Vettel holds a 17-point lead over Hamilton coming into the Chinese Grand Prix and the Briton cannot afford to fall further behind his rival in the title race this early in the season.
The 33-year-old has begun the race weekend in fine form, dominating the first practice session in Shanghai and finishing ahead of both Ferraris in the second session.
However, only 0.007s separated Hamilton's Mercedes from Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in the second session, suggesting there is not much between the two cars.
Bottas finished 0.033s behind Hamilton in third, with Vettel 0.108s behind in fourth.
The two practice sessions were affected by windy, overcast weather along with intermittent drizzles, although no rain is forecast for the rest of the weekend.
"It has been a good day," said Hamilton, who has won the Chinese Grand Prix five times in his career. "We got through all the laps that we needed. We've got some good feedback about the car. We've been progressing through the sessions and we've got a good idea.
"Ferrari are still quite quick. Red Bull were really quick on the long run. But, it's good to see all the times so close."
Hamilton's teammate Bottas said he expected an "extremely close" fight with Ferrari through qualifying and race day.
"[The balance] was a lot better in practice two. Practice one we had a lot of issues. The car, even though it was quick, it wasn't easy to drive at all," the Finn said.
"We got it better for practice two and that way lap times were improving. Hopefully [we can make] another step for tomorrow."
Where to watch Chinese GP qualifying
Qualifying starts at 11.25am IST on April 14. The session will be broadcast live on Star Sports Select 2 HD. Live streaming services are available on Hotstar.