Plot Thickens with Friday’s Practice In Sepang

Friday practice is complete and although the Mercedes W05 is still the darling of the bunch finishing atop the time sheets in both FP1 and FP2, the session did throw up some surprises. Most notably, making up for its less than impressive start of the season was the quick lap time of the F-14T with Kimi Raikkonen at the wheel. To be just 300ths of a second off the best time of Nico Rosberg in the second practice session is definitely an improvement for both Ferrari and Raikkonen who complained about the car not being to his liking in Melbourne.

It should be noted that Ferrari’s other driver, Fernando Alonso, is not far behind his teammate or the Mercedes for that matter. Recording the fifth best time in the second session, two tenths off Rosberg and a tenth and a half off Raikkonen, Alonso’s time underscores the potential of Ferrari’s new challenger that will hopefully soon be unlocked.

Also surprising was Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull. It looks like the pace of the RB10 was no fluke back in Melbourne and if the car stays reliable it can definitely fight for the win and most likely a podium. There is no word yet on whether Red Bull will again use their own fuel consumption settings for the race, but if they do then I am not sure we can consider their race pace genuine due to the fact that horsepower can be greatly increased with just a small increase of fuel flow if I understand this issue correctly. However, if they race with the FIA’s settings, well then I would say Red Bull and Vettel are back in business.

It is early yet but I have yet to see the half-second from McLaren that Ron Dennis promised earlier this week. Button finished in eighth, 7/10ths down, and young Magnussen twelfth, over a second off the pace. The McLaren was sporting a new nose with a different top profile and some tricky looking side flow modifiers as well as an Esso logo on the side pods, more than likely an affiliate of Mobil. One more hour for the silver and black cars to sort it out and we will see if Dennis was right.

The Williams cars that showed such promise two weeks ago are struggling a bit. Massa and Bottas have both mentioned the rear end is a weak link for Williams, but then again the rear is a challenge for all the teams this year so all things being equal there must be something else that is troubling the balance of the Martini liveried cars. On a positive note for Massa he is well in front of his younger teammate Bottas and that is always a good position to be in for the senior driver in a team.

Force India is about where they always end up with the other Nico putting in a decent lap for P10, and Toro Rosso continues to impress with both Jean-Eric Verge and newcomer Daniil Kvyat both having a good practice session.

Sauber continues their status quo. All throughout testing the team was low key and never produced lap times of any importance and so it goes in Malaysia for both practice sessions.

Marussia and Caterham are where you would expect them to be, at the bottom, although they have swapped positions. Now it would appear Marussia is in front as the faster of the two.

I saved Lotus for last. I think if anyone were to receive a trophy for the worst career move of 2014, sadly you would have to give it to Pastor Maldonado. Lotus are having a horrid time and it must be painful not just for the entire team but in particular Maldonado considering the way he split from his former employer last year by moving to a team that was consistently on the podium in the last part of the season. I don’t see the E-22 making it to the finish line this weekend.

Qualifying will be a real cracker with the Mercedes boys looking very close to each other and either one a favorite for pole position. Both Red Bull and Ferrari (if only just) are also in the mix. I hope the rain stays away and we have a clean race. This weekend should provide a much clearer idea of where everyone is in terms of true performance, at least until the teams get back to Europe and start bolting on the new parts and the development race starts in earnest.

There was however one more interesting development that can be gleaned from Friday practice, tire ware. Pirelli has not been in the news at all during the start of the season curtesy off the new turbo’s and I’m sure that is exactly how Paul Hembery and company like it. I don’t know if it is just me but on the Mercedes and the Red Bulls there seemed to be an excess of tire degradation on the longer runs with full tanks. I did not catch enough of all the runners to see if this was isolated or across the board so it could be nothing, but if we have a dry race this will be the first circuit with high speed, high energy turns and come race day way see yet another variable affecting the tops teams.

The days second practice times are below:

1N Rosberg (GER)Mercedes1’39.909
2KM Räikkönen (FIN)Ferrari1’39.944
3S Vettel (GER)Red Bull1’39.970
4LC Hamilton (GBR)Mercedes1’40.051
5F Alonso (ESP)Ferrari1’40.103
6F Massa (BRA)Williams1’40.112
7D Ricciardo (AUS)Red Bull1’40.276
8J Button (GBR)McLaren1’40.628
9V Bottas (FIN)Williams1’40.638
10N Hülkenberg (GER)Force India1’40.691
11JE Vergne (FRA)Toro Rosso1’40.777
12K Magnussen (DEN)McLaren1’41.014
13A Sutil (GER)Sauber1’41.257
14D Kvyat (RUS)Toro Rosso1’41.325
15E Gutiérrez (MEX)Sauber1’41.407
16S Perez (MEX)Force India1’41.671
17R Grosjean (FRA)Lotus1’42.531
18M Chilton (GBR)Marussia1’43.638
19J Bianchi (FRA)Marussia1’43.752
20M Ericsson (SWE)Caterham1’45.703
21K Kobayashi (JPN)Caterham
22P Maldonado (VEN)Lotus


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