Hamilton fastest but Coulthard in trouble

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton carried on where he had left off in Australia, setting the fastest time in practice in Sepang yesterday. Ferrari set the pace in the morning and for most of the hour and a half afternoon session before Hamilton calmly aced their drivers, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.

"I am pretty happy with today's results as the car showed consistent pace and good overall speed," Hamilton said before referring to a gear selection problem. "Unfortunately the morning session was not perfect, I had a slight problem on the car at the end but this didn't have any effect on our planned programme of tyre evaluation and race set-up work."

Massa said he was content after finishing only two-tenths slower that the Briton. "I am very happy with these two sessions," the Brazilian said. "The car proved to be very quick and consistent on both types of tyre. It's a shame I was unable to get the most out of the second set of soft [compound] tyres, when I found myself behind Hamilton who was going slowly. We are working in the right direction for qualifying and the race."

Raikkonen lost time in the morning after another snafu saw him run out of fuel, but he was only a further two-tenths adrift of his team-mate.

The world champion said: "The car seems to be going well and I am pleased with the work we have done. I worked mainly on the harder tyres, but I think that even with the softs we can be competitive. It is always difficult to say where we are compared to our rivals, but I think we can face the rest of the weekend with confidence."

Unfortunately for David Coulthard, Hamilton was not the only Briton whose fortunes from Australia continued. The Scot collided with Massa in Melbourne, and yesterday suffered a spectacular suspension failure in the morning session as he rode over the kerb in the appropriately named Turn 13. He was unharmed, but after taking into consideration the suspension failure that was a corollary of his accident last weekend, the race stewards summoned team engineers to discuss the strength of the Red Bull car.

Team principal Christian Horner had earlier said that there were no concerns but the stewards wanted to be assured. Their statement said: "Following a verbal report from the race director, the team principal and the technical representative are required to report to the stewards to discuss the incident involving car No 9 during practice session one as soon as possible after the end of practice session two."

Coulthard did not run in the afternoon and later the stewards issued another statement in which they demanded a report "verifying that the integrity of the suspension is such that the car should not be deemed of dangerous construction".

The incident was a further embarrassing problem for a team that had already seen Mark Webber suffer a Renault engine blow up in that same morning session, and which faces a long term problem with the requirement that, from 2010, F1 teams must construct their own cars.

That is why Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz has confirmed that his secondary team, Toro Rosso, are up for sale. They currently use Red Bull cars. The same problem stymied rally entrepreneur David Richards who had planned to bring his Prodrive team into F1 this year using McLarens.

"Historically the issue has to be how constructors are defined in the Concorde Agreement," said Martin Whitmarsh, the chief executive officer of McLaren Racing. "Some teams believe those conditions continued into 2008. Philosophically, we had concerns about second tier teams and were in favour of teams that could come in and reinforce the grid. The lesson for McLaren last year was that you have got to move on from all these things from time to time and that people have different views. Maybe customer teams will be allowed in. I think it is a discussion that F1 has to have."

The BBC have promised to revolutionise F1 coverage when they take over the ITV contract next season. In pledging to bring coverage to fans via technology including live streaming of races on the internet and mobile phones, and the possibility of races being broadcast in high definition, director of sports Dominic Coles said: "It will be the Martini approach to Grands Prix. You can watch it any time, any place, anywhere."

Coles has also suggested that F1 will benefit from the ongoing success of BBC's revamped Top Gear programme, which will exert a major influence on the tone of their F1 coverage in 2009.

"When Lewis Hamilton did a test lap on Top Gear it got more viewers than th e Brazilian Grand Prix," he added. "Bernie [Ecclestone] was very impressed with the Top Gear proposition and there will be cross-fertilisation between the show and the races."

It has been suggested that Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond could head the BBC F1 coverage, possibly with a retired David Coulthard taking over Martin Brundle's role as colour commentator.