Mar.23 (PVM) Mercedes power claimed the top four slots on the timing sheets after the second free practice session of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, with Lewis Hamilton ending the first day at Sepang fastest of all and, so far, unbeatable in the McLaren MP4-27.
Next up was seven times world champion Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes AMG W03, followed by third quickest Jenson Button in the McLaren and Nico Rosberg in the other Silver Arrow – a clean sweep of the top four positions for Mercedes power.
McLaren are looking very much on top of their game, the garage in Malaysia oozing confidence and their drivers are delivering on track. Hamilton is consistently at the sharp end and is also doing long runs – ending the day 0.361 seconds up on the next best. Practice days do not get any better.
Ditto Button’s side of the garage, where an oil leak that struck in the morning session was repaired, and the Australian GP winner also setting about doing the business at the sharp end of proceedings.
Schumacher has started on pole five times at Sepang and won on three occasions and this weekend the German appears to have a strong car at his disposal, although the W03 appears hot in short bursts but it’s effectiveness on long runs – including tyre management – is suspect, based on Melbourne evidence. Whatever the case the pair did 34 laps each, bettered only by one other driver in the afternoon session.
Both Schumacher and Rosberg must fancy a crack at pole on Saturday at least, if not the podium on Sunday, in the land of their backers Petronas…watch this space!
Up next was a Ferrari powered car, but not out of the Maranello factory, but rather the one belonging to that energy drinks lot – the junior team, Toro Rosso – with Daniel Ricciardo setting the fifth fastest time.
No matter how bad the Ferrari F2012 is, nothing will stop Fernando Alonso squeezing every ounce out of the beast and again he dug deep to end the day sixth fastest. By contrast teammate Felipe Massa was down in 16th, nearly 1.5 seconds down on the Spaniard.
Mark Webber was quickest of the Renault powered brigade, ending the session seventh fastest in the Red Bull RB8 and the only other driver within a second of Hamilton’s best.
The Toro Rosso STR7 appears to be a handy piece of kit as rookie Jean Eric Vergne ended eighth on the timing sheets – thus both Red Bull junior team cars in the top ten.
Ninth fastest was Romain Grosjean in the Lotus E20, with world champion Sebastian Vettel rounding out the top ten in the other Red Bull RB8.
Notably, out of the top ten was Kimi Raikkonen who spent a great deal of time in the pits tinkering with the Lotus E20 setup. Word is that the Finn is still searching for his optimum comfort zone in the cockpit, the Lotus mechanics working hard for their money in the Sepang humidity and heat.
Improving, albeit still at the wrong end of the timing sheets were the HRT pair – now ‘only’ five seconds off the top pace but at least doing a fair share of meaningful laps and looking more likely to qualify than a week ago down under.
What to make of day one at Sepang?
For sure the McLarens are the cars to beat. Also likely pole contenders are either of the Mercedes boys, while Vettel and Webber are probably not yet fully dialed in and may be keeping their powder dry for when it matters. Lotus have not been as feisty as they were in Melbourne – maybe another team playing it’s cards close to it’s chest? Whatever the case, the scene is set for another intriguing qualifying day – this time in Malaysia.