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

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker