Sepang Practice 2: Hamilton owns day one as Mercedes power rules

Lewis Hamilton fastest of all on day one in Malaysia

Lewis Hamilton fastest of all on day one in Malaysia

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.

Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday 23 March 2012. Practice

Michael Schumacher was second fastest

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.

Jenson Button was third fastest

Jenson Button was third fastest

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.

Kimi Raikkonen still not fully comfortable in the Lotus E20

Kimi Raikkonen still not fully comfortable in the Lotus E20

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.

And let’s not forget the rain…

Free Practice 2 – Sepang, 23 March 2012

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.172 28
2 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:38.533 0.361 34
3 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.535 0.363 30
4 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.696 0.524 34
5 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.853 0.681 33
6 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.891 0.719 27
7 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:39.133 0.961 29
8 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:39.297 1.125 33
9 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:39.311 1.139 22
10 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:39.402 1.230 25
11 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:39.444 1.272 35
12 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:39.464 1.292 26
13 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:39.625 1.453 20
14 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.687 1.515 16
15 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:39.696 1.524 29
16 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:40.271 2.099 28
17 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:40.678 2.506 34
18 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:40.947 2.775 33
19 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:41.464 3.292 25
20 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:41.681 3.509 20
21 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:42.594 4.422 18
22 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:42.874 4.702 24
23 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:43.658 5.486 18
24 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:43.823 5.651 22
Subbed by AJN.

Report in progress…