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