Kimi Raikkonen, the winner of the Australian Grand Prix, eradicated any doubts that his Melbourne performance was due to exceptional weather and track conditions by topping the time sheets in Sepang on Day 1 of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend.
With track temperatures over 30 degrees, the 33 year old Finn edged out Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull and Felipe Massa’s Ferrari, but the margins were tight; just 9/100ths of a second separated first and third.
Lotus’ technical director James Allison confirmed that only Raikkonen had the new updates on his car today, with Romain Grosjean thus disadvantaged. Lotus has a new exhaust package and was trialling a new front wing today. The Frenchman was 6th, some seven tenths of a second slower than his team mate.
The session was punctuated with a rain shower; the track was soaked but dried quickly. Nevertheless the times never got back to the levels of the first part of the session.
There was some encouragement for McLaren and Jenson Button when the track was damp; he was closer to the pace than in the dry. But the reality for his team is that without rain, he will once again be trailing Force India in the bottom of the top ten. Also showing strong pace in the wet once again was Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez and the Mercedes drivers.
Raikkonen’s pace was strong on both low and high fuel and in the wet conditions and with tyre degradation looking severe, especially on the harder compound, the Lotus’ ability to cover the distance in one less stop than its main rivals while maintaining good pace, may turn out to be a big advantage again.
Allison observed that Malaysia is traditionally one more stop than Melbourne, which indicates that his team is planning for three stops on Sunday. The question is whether Red Bull and Ferrari can also do the 56 laps at pace in three stops.
Williams, another team that has had a disappointing start to the season, ran an evaluation programme today hoping to solve some of its problems which are partly aerodynamic and partly set-up geometry. Early indications looked positive, but by the end of Free Practice 2 it appeared that they were still some way off, with Jules Bianchi’s Marussia ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado only half a second ahead.
“We haven’t made the progress we had hoped for today,” admitted technical director Mike Coughlan. We need to look at the data we have from both sessions to maximise the package we have. We will then head straight back to the factory to work on some improvements ahead of Shanghai.”
MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX, Sepang, Free Practice 2
1. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m36.569 28 Laps
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m36.588s + 0.019s 27
3. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.661s + 0.092s 33
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m36.985s + 0.416s 23
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m37.026s + 0.457s 29
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m37.206s + 0.637s 26
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m37.448s + 0.879s 32
8. Paul di Resta Force India 1m37.571s + 1.002s 30
9. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m37.574s + 1.005s 32
10. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m37.788s + 1.219s 10
11. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m37.838s + 1.269s 21
12. Jenson Button McLaren 1m37.865s + 1.296s 29
13. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m38.068s + 1.499s 31
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m38.645s + 2.076s 23
15. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m38.738s + 2.169s 31
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m38.801s + 2.232s 27
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m38.904s + 2.335s 31
18. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m39.508s + 2.939s 30
19. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m39.660s + 3.091s 28
20. Charles Pic Caterham 1m40.757s + 4.188s 29
21. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m40.768s + 4.199s 32
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m41.438s + 4.869s 23