Mercedes set the early pace in Malaysia

Mercedes have set the early pace in Malaysia with their drivers topping one Friday practice session apiece.

It wasn’t all straightforward for the team however as both of their drivers had moments, including a trip across the gravel for Lewis Hamilton. While Nico Rosberg streaked to a dominant 20+ second victory in Australia, the times have been much closer in free practice, with Kimi Raikkonen the closest driver to the Mercedes duo. Hamilton topped the times in FP1, just a tenth clear of the lead Ferrari in second. Rosberg was in third for Mercedes with the top five rounded out by the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen. The McLaren team were sporting Esso on their sidepods and a new nose. The top nine were separated by under a second with Williams driver Valtteri Bottas just outside that range.

In Free Practice 2 the tables turned and it was Rosberg leading the way this time just three hundredths of a second faster than Raikkonen. It looked to be a more promising session for Ferrari with Fernando Alonso finishing in fifth just a tenth down on the fastest time. Sebastian Vettel set the third fastest time in the Red Bull with Hamilton fourth. This time it was the top eleven separated by under a second, suggesting there could be a tight battle at the top tomorrow for pole position.

A number of drivers struggled to get to grips with their cars today with Alonso, Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Chilton amongst those who had spins or trips across the gravel. Lotus’ poor form continued with both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado only managing installation laps in FP1. Grosjean had a problem which saw him having to cruise around the track in second gear which was fixed and he was sent out again. This time his car returned to the pits via the help of the marshals as he reported a problem with his gearbox. Maldonado’s FP1 came to a smokey end and resulted in his car being stripped and put on jacks in FP2 and no running. Between them the Lotus drivers managed a total of 20 laps for both practice sessions combined.

Degradation looks set to be the word of the weekend, with the Sepang International Circuit being particularly tough on the tyres. However, this could pale into insignificance if the forecast rain appears.

 

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