Formula One’s most grueling challenge is without a doubt Malaysia, with air temperature reaching the 40s and humidity easily hitting 100%. Throw on two layers of fire-proof overalls, a very hot piece of machinery and 56 laps, and you really do have one of the most strenuous sporting events in the world. Drivers can lose as much as three kilos in body weight during the race through sweat alone, and so re-hydration is high on the agenda.
McLaren unveiled a slightly modified car compared to the incarnation of the Mp4-29 in the Australian GP. The update package, quoted by Ron Dennis as being worth .5 seconds per lap, consists mainly of a tweak to the front wing. Unlike the old, which was very much svelte and curved gradually towards the ground, the new nose section utilises the ‘Actual’ and ‘Technical’ noses. That is, one main section that suits aerodynamic, and an eyesore of a protrusion that satisfies the nose tip height regulation.
Commenting on the new-look McLaren, Jenson Button said:
“[Mercedes] are at least a second quicker than us right now, and it would be great to get half a second out of the car during this weekend, but we’re not fast enough to catch them yet.” (Source: BBC)
Fernando Alonso was the first driver on track in FP1, wrestling his Ferrari to set the pace in the early part of the session with a 1:41:923. The circuit was very green on Friday morning, with very little in the way of rubber laid down already.
Adrian Sutil provided entertainment just after 20 minutes in, oddly spinning the car when he came into the pit lane too quickly. The German seemed to carry too much speed into the tight left-handed pit lane entry, and a quick splash through the gravel did little to help his morning.
Marcus Ericsson had a spin right next to where Sutil went rallycrossing, but his was on the racetrack itself. It seemed no one was safe from the final corner – now super rookie Kevin Magnussen added to the list of unfortunates, though he lost power, rather than spun.
Ferrari’s drivers had contrasting fortunes with half an hour to go. Kimi Raikkonen momentarily went fastest of all, but at the very same time the other, Alonso, had a rare spin, losing the apex at the very fast Turn 8. Not five minutes later, his former teammate Felipe Massa did exactly the same thing, showing how little grip there was in Sepang on Friday morning.
Lotus’ appalling luck did not improve after the dismal showing in Melbourne. Romain Grosjean’s car ground to a halt due to an MGU-H problem early on in the session, but Maldonado fared even worse, with a good old-fashioned failure of the Internal Combustion Engine. He was instructed to turn off the engine, but instead dragged his E22 all the way back to the pitlane, spewing blue oily smoke into the Malaysian atmosphere. The Venezuelan came to rest just short of the pitlane, where his car would surely remain all afternoon.
Lewis Hamilton topped the sheets with a time of 1:40:691, followed by a rejuvenated Kimi Raikkonen just shy of a tenth back. Rosberg, Button and Magnussen made sure it was a very silver top 5, as they rounded out 3rd, 4th and 5th slots. Sebastian Vettel managed a time good enough for 7th, and the only drivers not to set a time were the Lotuses of Grosjean and Maldonado.
Max Chilton began the session by spinning his Marussia out of the tricky turn 6, a crucial mishap in terms of the team’s battle with long-term nemesis Caterham.
There was brief joy for Lotus as Romain Grosjean topped the sheets early on with a time of 1:44:005, but this was the fist timed lap of the session. The Lotus morale was pretty low after a dismal P1. Pastor Maldonado’s car lay in pieces in the garage, but Grosjean was soon forced to join him, after a gearbox hitch left him stuck in second gear, and coasting back to the pitlane. It got even worse as the session continued – the team got him back out for a few more laps, but the gearbox suffered further damage, and he was forced out.
There was a surge in activity in the middle of the session with quick times coming from both Williams drivers, both topping the timing screen with just three one-thousandths of a second between them. Nico Rosberg predictably set the benchmark around half-way through the session, demonstrating the amazing balance of the Mercedes W05. Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel had a shot at beating Rosberg’s time but they fell just short. Still, it was a bouyant result considering Kimi’s lack of pace and Vettel’s lack of anything in Australia.
Daniel Ricciardo gave Red Bull a scared with a flash through the gravel towards the end of the session, but the ever-smiley Australian kept clear of the barriers, and was able to go seventh-fastest. He was incredibly upbeat when talking about his disqualification in Australia:
“I was like… streuth, blimey, crikey! It’s not one of those things that happen often, but nah, it was obviously a bit of a bummer, and we still have the appeal to happen in April.” (Source: BBC)
Rosberg topped the timesheets with a blistering time of 1:39:909, less than a tenth of a second ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel. Friday Practice is traditionally a long-running session, with Saturday Practice providing the real insight into Qualifying pace. However, both Kimi and Seb must take this as a positive.