Fast in practice, but the heat is on for Lewis Hamilton

 

Sepang

Lewis Hamilton got his Malaysian Grand Prix weekend off to the perfect start here yesterday, dominating both practice sessions in temperatures above 30C and very high humidity.

Having started from pole position yet only finished third in Australia, where McLaren team-mate Jenson Button won the race after making a better start, Hamilton has a point to prove.

"It's been a good day for me," he said. "We've made a few changes to the balance of the car since the last race and I'm much happier. But we'll still be making changes to improve our long-run pace, which can always be better."

Even though he was fastest, Hamilton had several off-track moments as he attempted to hone his car's handling balance as the day went on.

"I'm working as hard as I can to have as good a qualifying set-up as my race set-up and I think we've got a bit more of an understanding of how the car works on heavy fuel," he said.

"I went wide a couple of times on my long run in the second session, and looking after the tyres will be a tough call in the race, so it's all about finding the right balance. Around here, overtaking will be a little more possible than in Melbourne. Nevertheless, starting from the front will still be the best position for the race, and that's what I'll be going for tomorrow."

Button had a slightly less satisfactory day after losing time in the morning with an oil leak and then being pipped by two thousandths of a second by Mercedes's Michael Schumacher in the afternoon. Kimi Raikkonen will take a five place grid penalty for tomorrow's race, after Lotus had to replace his car's gearbox. F1 drivers are required to use one gearbox for five successive races, or face such a penalty.

"The morning was a little frustrating, but it didn't really matter as the track was still dirty," said Button. "In the afternoon I did some positive running on both tyre compounds and I think we have a good understanding of the tyre. But it's going to be tough on both compounds around here with all the humidity and the heat.

"I think the race will be tough for all of us; unless the circuit improves a great deal, there's going to be quite a few pit stops on Sunday."

McLaren believe their strongest opposition could come from Mercedes in qualifying, though Red Bull are likely to be stronger in race trim.

This race is not just hard on the cars or the tyres – the drivers suffer hugely, too. "It's the humidity more than anything else," Button explained. "For all of us this is one of the toughest races; I think most of us are used to training hard, so training for an hour and a half isn't an issue, but it's the humidity here that is tough for everyone. When you get onto the straight you can't breathe.

"The straights are normally a rest for us, when we just change gears and play around with a few switches. But here you don't get that luxury because you can't breathe. It's so hot, the air coming into the car, so it's very difficult. You've got to be very relaxed; if you're as relaxed as you can be it helps you a lot more in the race."

Formula One drivers are supremely fit athletes, but even the fittest can lose up to three kilos of bodyweight in an hour and a half race. "Some people [lose] even more," said Button. "It's quite a lot of fluid that you lose, that you sweat out of your body. I think everyone will be fine. The cars are a lot easier to drive than they used to be, in the race. In qualifying they're not, because they get quite lively, but in the race, because of the fuel load, they're easier.

"But here is still tough because of the heat. A lot of people do physical activity to get used to the humidity because it's such a shock. I feel sorry for Jean-Eric Vergne and a few of the others. They haven't been here before and it's a real shock walking outside. It hits you the moment you walk out of the airport."

To try to help, the drivers all had frozen drink bottles in the car, though they tend to warm up pretty quickly. The first man ever to try one, British star Tony Brooks in the French GP at Reims in 1959, recalls: "I had a bottle of orange juice because it was so hot. But the moment I took a swig of it during the race, it was like hot tea!"

In extremis, drivers wear water-cooled suits and skullcaps, as in Dallas in 1984, when the temperature reached 38C. Here the forecast limit is 33C, just about bearable without such kit.

Three things to watch in Sepang

Lewis versus Jenson

The victory in Australia was a major fillip for Jenson Button, and Lewis Hamilton was clearly not happy after finishing only third in the race after starting from pole position. Here he needs a strong result to keep his momentum and status, especially in a car that he knows can win races.

Lotus

Button tips Lotus to do something spectacular here after their performance in pre-season testing and Romain Grosjean's third place on the grid in Melbourne. Their E20 is well balanced and good on its tyres, and it remains the dark horse.

Tyre degradation

How well drivers can conserve their tyres will be critical to success here. The heat and humidity take their toll on the rubber, as do the fast, sweeping curves of Sepang, where the left-hand tyres in particular take a real beating. The art lies in getting the best from the tyres without extracting their performance too quickly.

David Tremayne

Sepang: Practice times

FIA Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix

First session

1 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes, fastest lap time: 1min, 38.021sec, 19 laps completed; 2 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:38.535, 21; 3 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:38.813, 21; 4 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes 1:38.826, 19; 5 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus-Renault 1:38.919, 17; 6 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:39.092, 20; 7 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus 1:39.128, 22; 8 P di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes 1:39.298, 23; 9 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:39.323, 15; 10 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:39.440, 19; 11 V Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault 1:39.724, 23; 12 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:39.783, 23; 13 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:39.896, 16; 14 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber 1:39.910, 21; 15 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:39.980, 23; 16 J-E Vergne (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:40.099, 23; 17 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham-Renault 1:40.247, 19; 18 D Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso 1:40.469, 23; 19 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1:40.857, 25; 20 S Perez (Mex) Sauber 1:41.085, 23; 21 T Glock (Ger) Marussia-Cosworth 1:43.170, 18; 22 C Pic (Fr) Marussia 1:44.580, 14; 23 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-Cosworth 1:45.360, 8; 24 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT 1:45.528, 18.

Second session

1 Hamilton 1min, 38.172sec, 28 laps completed; 2 Schumacher 1:38.533, 34; 3 Button 1:38.535, 30; 4 Rosberg 1:38.696, 34; 5 Ricciardo 1:38.853, 33; 6 Alonso 1:38.891, 27; 7 Webber 1:39.133, 29; 8 Vergne 1:39.297, 33; 9 Grosjean 1:39.311, 22; 10 Vettel 1:39.402, 25; 11 Maldonado 1:39.444, 35; 12 Hulkenberg 1:39.464, 26; 13 Di Resta 1:39.625, 20; 14 Kobayashi 1:39.687, 16; 15 Raikkonen 1:39.696, 29; 16 Massa 1:40.271, 28; 17 Senna 1:40.678, 34; 18 Perez 1:40.947, 33; 19 Petrov 1:41.464, 25; 20 Glock 1:41.681, 20; 21 Kovalainen 1:42.594, 19; 22 Pic 1:42.874, 24; 23 Karthikeyan 1:43.658, 18; 24 De la Rosa 1:43.823, 22.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice