Lewis Hamilton sets the pace in Malaysian Grand Prix practice

 

Lewis Hamilton showed McLaren is again the team to beat in this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix by setting the fastest time in both practice sessions today.

Hamilton, who took pole position in last week's Formula One season-opening race in Australia, established himself as favorite to repeat the feat here on Saturday by setting a time that was a third of a second quicker than Mercedes' Michael Schumacher and McLaren teammate Jenson Button in afternoon practice.

"It's been a good day for me," Hamilton said. "We've made a few changes to the balance of the car since the last race and I'm much happier.

"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."

His time in morning practice was a 10th of a second better than that in the afternoon, with all teams electing to preserve sets of tires for Saturday and Sunday rather than use them up finding more practice pace. Tire degradation is a major issue at tropical Sepang, and fresh tires will be critical in the race.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was fourth fastest in the afternoon, ahead of Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, although the best times were more than three seconds off last year's pole position lap, indicating much room for improvement on Saturday.

Red Bull's Mark Webber was seventh on the timesheets, with world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel down in 10th as he struggled with the balance of the car.

Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne was eighth fastest and Lotus' Romain Grosjean ninth. Ferrari's under-pressure driver Felipe Massa, who is using a new chassis here after his struggles in Melbourne, made no improvement and finished a lowly 16th.

Hamilton's day was not perfect, twice running wide in the afternoon session while practicing long-run race simulation rather than qualifying-style laps. Having been unable to match pace with Button in the race last weekend, Hamilton acknowledged he — and all other drivers — must be extra vigilant not to damage tires on Sunday.

"Looking after your tires is going to be a really tough call, trying to stop the sliding and driving with understeer if you can while keeping the lap times up," Hamilton said.

Button is regarded as one of the best in the business at nursing his tires through a race, but even he acknowledged it will very difficult to manage degradation on Sunday.

"Its tough on both tires around here with the humidity and the heat," Button said. "Unless the circuit improves a great deal, there is going to be quite a few (pit) stops out there."

Friday's times indicated a shootout between the McLarens and Mercedes in Saturday's qualifying, but Button anticipated other threats.

"Its going to be unbelievably competitive," Button said. "The Lotuses will be quick, and the Red Bulls will be quick."

Schumacher, still chasing his first podium finish since his 2010 comeback, appears better placed than ever to end that drought, as the long straights of Sepang should suit the Mercedes' innovative wing design which boosts straight-line speed.

"We had a good day on track today, and I am very happy about the work that has been done since Australia," Schumacher said. "This has enabled us to achieve reasonably consistent long runs which is obviously important in these conditions."

Friday's practice was free of major incident. Button's car had an oil leak that curtailed his morning practice while Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi had a gearbox problem that required major work but was able to emerge for the final minutes of afternoon practice.

Vettel, who snatched a somewhat flattering second place in Melbourne, was not pleased with the Red Bull's handling at Sepang.

"The tires drop off quite quickly here, which is the same for all the drivers, but we are sliding quite a bit and I would like the car to be a bit more stable," Vettel said. "We made a good step today, the potential is there, but we need to get to it."

The top four cars in Friday's times were Mercedes-powered, but it will likely be tires rather than engines that will decide Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's race.

"Our first impression is that a three-stop strategy seems likely and so far there is a difference of around 0.5 seconds between the two compounds, but the track will still evolve considerably before the race," Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said.

The other potentially decisive factor is the ever-present risk of tropical downpours in Malaysia. The showers held off on Friday but it is very rare for a race weekend at Sepang to avoid rain altogether.

Reuters

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment