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

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living