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

14Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes1:38.17228
27Michael SchumacherMercedes1:38.5330.36134
33Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes1:38.5350.36330
48Nico RosbergMercedes1:38.6960.52434
516Daniel RicciardoSTR-Ferrari1:38.8530.68133
65Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:38.8910.71927
72Mark WebberRed Bull Racing-Renault1:39.1330.96129
817Jean-Eric VergneSTR-Ferrari1:39.2971.12533
910Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault1:39.3111.13922
101Sebastian VettelRed Bull Racing-Renault1:39.4021.23025
1118Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault1:39.4441.27235
1212Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes1:39.4641.29226
1311Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes1:39.6251.45320
1414Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari1:39.6871.51516
159Kimi RäikkönenLotus-Renault1:39.6961.52429
166Felipe MassaFerrari1:40.2712.09928
1719Bruno SennaWilliams-Renault1:40.6782.50634
1815Sergio PerezSauber-Ferrari1:40.9472.77533
1921Vitaly PetrovCaterham-Renault1:41.4643.29225
2024Timo GlockMarussia-Cosworth1:41.6813.50920
2120Heikki KovalainenCaterham-Renault1:42.5944.42218
2225Charles PicMarussia-Cosworth1:42.8744.70224
2323Narain KarthikeyanHRT-Cosworth1:43.6585.48618
2422Pedro de la RosaHRT-Cosworth1:43.8235.65122
Subbed by AJN.

Report in progress…