Nico Rosberg continued Mercedes’ pacesetting form by topping the times in Free Practice for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. The top three cars were 7/100ths of a second apart; six cars were separated by just 0.2 seconds.
The Australian GP winner set a benchmark time of 1:39.909, with Raikkonen and Vettel joining the German in dipping below the 100-second barrier, all with the use of the medium tyre, the softer of the two compounds on offer this weekend.
The option tyre gave an improvement of around 0.8s for the leading cars, but suffered in the heat and on Sepang’s aggressive surface, with Vettel told by engineer Guillaume Rocquelin that tyre degradation was bad and to save rubber “in the usual places”. Vettel, though, was able to set his quickest time on the second lap on the tyre, hinting at Red Bull’s kindness to the Pirelli rubber in the searing temperatures. HIs long run pace looked good.
“I think we had a good day, obviously Friday timings are not the most important thing in the world but it’s good to be up there and in range of the top guys,” said Vettel. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner confirmed that the team had another problem with a fuel sensor.
Red Bull, along with Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams looked very close on both tyre compounds, with Fernando Alonso holding top spot ahead of Lewis Hamilton prior to the switch to softer rubber.
Hamilton eventually ended the session in fourth place, with Alonso in fifth before the teams switched their attentions to race simulations in the second half of the session.
Rosberg, remaining on the medium tyre, saw just a 1.7s drop in lap time across 11 laps compared to a three-second deficit for the Williams of Felipe Massa, who ended the day sixth fastest. Ferrari, too, had a drop-off of around two seconds, with Raikkonen consistently in the 1m45s bracket and around 0.6s slower than Rosberg on the same tyre.
But it was Red Bull who showed the best consistency, Vettel dropping nine tenths of a second in as many laps and matching the pace of Rosberg. That could allow for a two-stop race for the Milton Keynes squad against the expectations of three stops and will give them a chance to challenge Mercedes.
The sister RB10 of Daniel Ricciardo ended the session in seventh place, 0.4s off the pace but enjoying tyre longevity similar to that of his team-mate.
Jenson Button was the quickest of the McLaren drivers in eighth place, albeit 0.7s adrift and unable to match the race pace of the cars ahead, with the current world championship leaders’ second driver, Kevin Magnussen finishing the day in 12th place. The Dane stopped on track in FP1 due to an exhaust sensor problem and focused predominantly on longer runs in the afternoon.
Lotus’ start to the 2014 season failed to improve as both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado both broke down in this morning’s session. Come the afternoon and Grosjean was able to complete nine laps before a gearbox issue saw him to return to the pits. He re-emerged shortly afterwards only to suffer the same issue and stop on the side of the track. Maldonado, meanwhile, did not leave the pits.
An hour after the end of the session, the heavens opened and torrential rain fell. This was around the same time as qualifying and the race are due to start; 16-00 local time.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang, Free Practice
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m39.909s 30
2. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m39.944s +0.035s 30
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m39.970s +0.061s 30
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m40.051s +0.142s 32
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m40.103s +0.194s 29
6. Felipe Massa Williams 1m40.112s +0.203s 34
7. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m40.276s +0.367s 29
8. Jenson Button McLaren 1m40.628s +0.719s 28
9. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m40.638s +0.729s 35
10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m40.691s +0.782s 34
11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m40.777s +0.868s 33
12. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m41.014s +1.105s 20
13. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m41.257s +1.348s 28
14. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m41.325s +1.416s 32
15. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m41.407s +1.498s 34
16. Sergio Perez Force India 1m41.671s +1.762s 25
17. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m42.531s +2.622s 14
18. Max Chilton Marussia 1m43.638s +3.729s 20
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m43.752s +3.843s 29
20. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m45.703s +5.794s 31
21. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 0
22. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 0