Brought to you by Adam Macdonald (@adamac39)
At last, the better days have arrived for Italians – not least our very own Grumpy Jackal of TJ13 – as not only have the Scuderia of Maranello improved at last, but now we have an Italian back on the grid. OK, maybe I’m getting slightly ahead of myself, as Raffaele Marciello, who replaces Felipe Nasr for this session, is only a reserve/test driver for the Swiss outfit. However, Marciello is a GP2 race winner unlike many other test drivers, so this is a genuine appointment.
Last year, we saw Lewis Hamilton top the timesheets in FP1 with a 1:40.691, with the same tyre compounds being brought to Malaysia. It will be interesting to see what time is set this year for a direct comparison to 2014, in similar conditions at Sepang.
Fresh from the strong Sauber showing in Melbourne, Marcus Ericsson was the first to lead out a flurry of activity in the Malaysian sunshine. Bringing up the rear was the first sighting of a Manor Marussia car out on track, piloted by Will Stevens, who could be forgiven for the rather pedestrian pace at which he limped around the 5.54km circuit. Fernando Alonso soon followed in a twitchy MP4-30 as the rear stepped out into turn one, on a quicker run down from the pit straight – perhaps still adjusting to the new s-duct on the car.
Roberto Merhi was not so fortunate as Will Stevens, as he spluttered and struggled around on just the solitary tour before returning to the garage. Also suffering problems was Mercedes as the telemetry was not being relayed to those on the pit wall from Hamilton’s car and Nico Rosberg ran wide while fine tuning his W06.
Bottas was touring in 1:43s before others rejoined the track. Business as usual was resumed as Rosberg leaped to the top of the charts with a 1:40.561, on a lap he barely looked to be pushing on, one second clear of the closest challenger! The reliability woes continued for Mercedes when, after just short of half an hour had passed, Lewis Hamilton pulled up by the side of the track and awaited a tow truck. It was hap-hazardly guided away from the asphalt smoke emanated from the left-rear of the car, with worried faces watching on from the pit wall.
Perhaps some credence was at last afforded to a Christian Horner idea as the team were forced to stop the car out on track in order to not risk the “race engine.” Had this been a Friday practice engine then more caution would have been thrown to the Malaysian wind.
The ensuing pause gave time for everyone to comment on their enjoyment of the heat. Another driver who had not set a time was Sebastian Vettel, he sat at the back of the garage as worked continued in front of him. A heat issue on the car during the installation lap meant a radiator change was required.
Will Stevens was the first to break the seemingly never ending stream of interviews and facts. The Essex born driver’s powertrain sounded far healthier than his Spanish compatriot’s had done earlier in the session. Stevens continued to set his first ‘flying’ lap, which ended up some 10.530 seconds off Rosberg’s quickest time. The subsequent laps started to shave large chunks off his quickest, edging closer to the McLaren of Alonso. Poignantly, this put the Manor driver within the 107% time required in order to go racing.
After a mulligan on his first attempt, Fernando Alonso decided to flex the muscles of his McLaren as he set a 1:42.885, to improve to 12th place which, crucially, was quicker than both Force India cars. Nico Rosberg went four tenths quicker to register a 1:40.124, with unfamiliar rear gunners. Grosjean, Sainz and Verstappen respectively followed the German.
With just over half an hour to go Sebastian Vettel rejoined the action to set a 1:42.137 as he eased into the running. No sooner had he done that, his teammate Kimi Raikkonen turned up the wick to go second, to which Vettel slotted into third place – though half a second down on the Finn.
Pastor Maldonado provided those around the world with a great camera shot as he power slid into a corner, clearly eager to make up for lost time in Australia. The Venezuelan was third fastest through the speed trap, with his teammate topping the list, showing just how much more power the Mercedes powertrain was delivering compared to the Renault unit.
Roberto Merhi eventually made it out onto the now baking and posted a time one second down on his teammate. At last a competitive time meant no repeat of the effective fine that Ecclestone imposed on them after their Melbourne no show – as was detailed here.
Williams continued to keep their cards close to their chest, not interested in setting headline lap times, they went about business as usual. Aside from the two quick laps from the Ferrari cars there were no further improvements on lap times, as the tyres were well past their best by the end of the session. Unlike the Russian GP last year, the Sepang circuit is traditionally one of higher tyre wear, which may throw a spanner in the works for the strategists for the race.
As drivers started to run wide with greater frequency it would have been easy to think it was merely carelessness on the part of the drivers. The high humidity could pose an issue to drivers on Sunday, especially as they become dehydrated. Felipe Massa’s drinks tube had dislodged itself, which he had no problem in warning the team about the dangers of this should it occur on Sunday.
Ferrari look good, but one has to wonder how much Nico Rosberg was actually pushing his W06 with the absence of his teammate on track…the previously dubbed ‘Spaceships’ – the Mercedes cars – were not looking so bulletproof.
|5||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||1:41.596||1.472||26|
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:41.787||1.663||15|
|7||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso||1:41.803||1.679||23|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull||1:42.055||1.931||18|
|15||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:42.893||2.769||13|
|16||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:43.054||2.930||15|