Shanghai: Lewis Hamilton set the pace for Mercedes in free practice on Friday at the Chinese Grand Prix but Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was just a whisker behind as the rival teams headed for another clash in this weekend's race.
The last time a driver failed to win the championship after winning the opening two races of a season was in 1982, when Alain Prost lost out to Keke Rosberg.
Verstappen and Hamilton collided on the second lap of last Sunday's floodlit race at the Sakhir circuit when the Dutchman dived down the inside of the 33-year-old Briton in an attempt to take 10th position.
Sebastian Vettel has said his Ferrari vehicle needs some fine-tuning ahead of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. Red Bull's Max Verstappen spun at the final corner while preparing for his run on the ultrasofts.
"It's obviously cooler. It's a different track, so I think, honestly, the first two races have been quite different, so it's not that straightforward to predict the third one. It was a big, positive surprise and I'm very happy".
Hamilton went on to finish third but the coming together punctured a tyre on Verstappen's auto, eventually damaging the gearbox and forcing him to retire.
Hamilton said: "We performed well but Ferrari outperformed us".
Lewis Hamilton has said it has been a productive day for Mercedes in China but is well aware of the threat that Ferrari and Red Bull are posing this weekend. "But if we can be fast here then maybe we've got a good vehicle in all conditions".
Three teams and their six drivers monopolize the top spots in Formula One nearly every race.
BC-CAR-F1-Chinese GP, 606 For most of the F1 teams, 4th place is as good as it getsAP Photo CHF117, CHF128, CHF113, CHF108, CHF120Eds: With AP Photos.
"You can't say that they were ideal and neither were we".
He said: "I really hope I'm able to climb the ladder and get back to where we've been working towards in the last two races".
"It's good to see all the times so close, but it means that we really need to bring our A game".
Verstappen and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo both retired early last weekend in Bahrain, and they both had off-the-podium finishes in Australia: Ricciardo was fourth and Verstappen was sixth. We still have work to do, especially for conditions like here in Bahrain.
Both races were heavily influenced by strategy, suggesting this season's championship will be fought as much on the pit wall as on the track.