2011 Malaysian Grand Prix (Rd 2, Free Practice 1, April 8th)

© Creative Commons / Will Pittenger

Mark Webber topped a hot and humid first practice session at Sepang.

Indeed the Red Bull driver cemented his place at the head of the field with a best of 1:37.651 from a 22 lap session, leaving Webber a clear 1.6 seconds up on 2nd place Lewis Hamilton.
Like the first practices in Australia two weeks ago, Red Bull have KERS switched on, but appear more likely to use it this time around.

It was not all Red Bull’s way though. The victor of Melbourne, Sebastian Vettel, took 17th position, nearly four seconds down on Webber, although that will most certainly be rectified come qualifying and the race.

Hamilton meanwhile had to be content following his morning stint. The McLaren driver possessed a 0.5 second advantage over Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher (3rd), while Force India reserve Nico Hulkenberg was another six-tenths further back in 4th.
Pastor Maldonado (Williams) registered 5th at the tail end of a long run.  The Venezuelan fell only a few hundredths shy of Hulkenberg – however that the gap from 1st to 5th is 2.8 seconds is still quite startling, despite this only being a practice session.
Two-tenths of a second covered the following six machines, headed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. Indeed both Ferrari’s spent much of the session notching up a number of installation laps, before embarking on timed runs late on.

Trailing Massa in 7th was Nick Heidfeld. The Renault pilot set a quick early time; however his session was cut short by an apparent brake problem on his sixth tour. Having dragged his R31 much of the way around the lap, severe damage was discovered around the brake hub, rendering Heidfeld’s morning done.
Heidfeld’s teammate Vitaly Petrov had less luck. On his fourth lap, the Russian suffered a left front wheel failure, pitching the Russian into the gravel. Renault would later reveal that the failures were potentially linked to faulty suspension uprights. It may cost the Renault much of the afternoon.
The failures would not end there. The suspension on the right front Jerome d’Ambrosio’s Virgin sheered itself with only moments remaining, pulling the wheel only the MVR-02. There were several other offs, but nothing quite as dramatic as what befell Petrov and d’Ambrosio.

Unsurprisingly, Hispania found themselves at the tail of the pack, but amongst the adversity, there are slight glimmers of hope. Vitantonio Liuzzi completed 20 laps, with a best 7.5 seconds down on Webber, while teammate Narain Karthikeyan was a further 1.1 seconds down.
Karthikeyan’s running was severely limited due to an early oil line failure; yet the Indian did get out for at least ten laps. Their new front wing may not have clawed as much of an advantage as they initially assumed, but the Spanish squad are making small steps to the grid.
In one sense the Hispania was too quick – Karthikeyan pummelled the pitlane speed limit, earning himself a $2,800 fine.

Pos  Driver         Team                   Time              Laps
 1.  Webber         Red Bull-Renault       1m37.651s            22
 2.  Hamilton       McLaren-Mercedes       1m39.316s  + 1.665   16
 3.  Schumacher     Mercedes               1m39.791s  + 2.140   29
 4.  Hulkenberg     Force India-Mercedes   1m40.377s  + 2.726   23
 5.  Maldonado      Williams-Cosworth      1m40.443s  + 2.792   31
 6.  Massa          Ferrari                1m40.453s  + 2.802   22
 7.  Heidfeld       Renault                1m40.525s  + 2.874    6
 8.  Barrichello    Williams-Cosworth      1m40.581s  + 2.930   21
 9.  Alonso         Ferrari                1m40.601s  + 2.950   23
10.  Rosberg        Mercedes               1m40.646s  + 2.995   29
11.  Sutil          Force India-Mercedes   1m40.734s  + 3.083   21
12.  Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m40.748s  + 3.097   23
13.  Alguersuari    Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m40.770s  + 3.119   24
14.  Kobayashi      Sauber-Ferrari         1m40.872s  + 3.221   27
15.  Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1m40.927s  + 3.276   16
16.  Trulli         Lotus-Renault          1m41.620s  + 3.969   21
17.  Vettel         Red Bull-Renault       1m41.627s  + 3.976   18
18.  Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1m41.642s  + 3.991   24
19.  Glock          Virgin-Cosworth        1m42.154s  + 4.503   18
20.  d'Ambrosio     Virgin-Cosworth        1m42.540s  + 4.889   20
21.  Valsecchi      Lotus-Renault          1m44.054s  + 6.403   18
22.  Liuzzi         HRT-Cosworth           1m45.228s  + 7.577   20
23.  Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth           1m46.267s  + 8.616   10
24.  Petrov         Renault                1m47.932s  + 10.281   4

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