Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were the two fastest men in todays Practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Rosberg managed to post the quickest time in the first of the two Practice sessions today, before Hamilton went quickest in the second Practice session after encountering Power Unit 30 minutes in the morning session.
The Mercedes driver had to have his Power Unit inlet changed, which took up most of the morning session and the first half hour of the final session of the day. Hamilton wasn’t able to get a long race run in to his programme with the stoppage, however he did switch to the Medium tyre to post his quickest lap of the day.
Also not far behind the Merc’s was Ferrari, who made some notable improvements in the closing stages of the first Practice session, both getting within eight tenths of the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg – with Raikkonen getting within three tenths on the Hard tyre. The thinking is that Ferrari are not far off the Silver Arrows in the first and last sector, with them loosing time in the middle sector where all the twisty bits lie, suggesting that its downforce that they are lacking in comparison.
In other news one of the big stories from the first Practice session in Malaysia was Manor finally taking to the circuit with both Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi venturing out in what was effectively a shakedown for their car. Merhi was particularly going along rather gingerly after a suspected problem with the anti-stall system on his car stopped him from being able to use a lot of power.
Merhi later became the cause of a Red Flag in Practice Two, after his Manor Marussia swapped ends going over the bumps heading into turn eleven and spun off into the gravel. Once his car was recovered the session restarted, only to have Vettel spin at exactly the same point. He managed to keep his Ferrari out of the gravel though, and rejoin the circuit before abandoning his runs on the Medium tyre in favour of a race run on the Hard.
Once all Manor’s problems had been sorted, later on in the session we saw Stevens put in some timed laps on the Hard tyre. Whilst he was initially 10 seconds off the pace, his lap times eventually tumbled, with him getting into the crucial 107% time that allows teams to take part in the race on Sunday if they run into issues during Qualifying. His best lap was a 1:45.704, with Merhi setting a 1:47.229 – just within three hundredths of the second of the 107% time.
Another story in Practice was Fernando Alonso making his return to the track after a month of no action recovering from his crash during pre-season testing in February. The McLaren driver took to the circuit with the new S-Duct that the team had been working on, which aids airflow towards the bulkhead of the car by channeling it from the front.
Otherwise he looked like the same Fernando Alonso we left off with. A small lockup heading into turn 14 made him run wide and off the track heading onto the back straight, however that ended up being a trend among drivers including Raikkonen and Massa. He did show some pace though in Practice Two once the race runs started to get put in, with the McLaren looking similarly matched to the Toro Rosso’s.
Elsewhere Carlos Sainz Jr was quick to point out during his out-lap that drivability in his Renault Power Unit was a “big step forwards” from Melbourne, which is encouraging considering the strains that have been put on their relationship in the weeks preceding Melbourne. Teammate Max Verstappen meanwhile ran into issues in the early part of the session after sustaining a rear puncture just a couple of laps into his timed runs, forcing him to make an unscheduled stop off to the pits.
Other dramas include Hulkenberg in the Force India complaining about his upshifts being too slow, as well as about the drivability of their Mercedes engine which they are still trying to sort out. Likewise for Lotus, however Romain Grosjean finished a solid fourth place in the order just a second off the pace, which is progress after the teams double retirement in Australia.
The pair did however cause some mayhem at the start of Practice Two, with Maldonado’s sidepod bodywork coming loose on the backstraight in a scene that is becoming a bit too familiar in F1, and Grosjean locking both his front wheels heading into turn one and skidding off the track. He managed to rejoin, however his tyres looked like they were more or less destroyed.
And finally Red Bull were seemingly having gearbox issues again with Kvyat, whilst Riccardo managed only 8 laps in Practice Two, spending most of his time in the garage because of an issue with his cylinders in the internal combustion engine of his Renault Power Unit.
Images via Sutton Motorsport, Manor Marussia