Mark Webber set the fastest time in first practice ahead of the Malaysia Grand Prix at Sepang although the reigning constructors’ champions didn’t enjoy the same single lap advantage they seemed to have in Australia a week ago. Webber set a 1:36.935 to top the times but Kimi Raikkonen backed up his Albert Park victory with second this morning, less than a tenth behind the Australian.
After their nightmare start in Melbourne, McLaren were one of the first teams to send their drivers out for some sustained running as their efforts to understand the MP4-28 continued. This allowed Sergio Perez to lead at the halfway point but he was soon shuffled down the order as the leading teams got down to business.
Lewis Hamilton was the first to demote his former employers from the top of the leaderboard with a 1:38.113 before his teammate Nico Rosberg lowered the benchmark by a further three tenths. Mercedes weren’t in the ascendancy for long though as Webber pumped in a 1:37.075 immediately when he took his RB9 out. Sebastian Vettel had no answer for the pace of his teammate in FP1 with Webber improving shortly afterwards to become the only driver to break the 1:37 barrier, pulling out a 0.169s lead.
An hour had passed before we saw a timed lap from Kimi Raikkonen with the championship leader believed to have been delayed by a minor KERS issue. Once he took his Lotus onto the circuit, Kimi was straight on the pace with a 1:37.003 coming at the very first attempt, enabling him to split the Red Bulls.
Fernando Alonso was another driver to start his programme late before climbing to fourth with Nico Rosberg’s 1:37.588 good enough for fifth, four places ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton. Between them were the impressive Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta, sixth and eighth respectively, while Felipe Massa took the second Ferrari to seventh. Sutil’s morning was interrupted by a front wing change after excessive use of the kerb exiting the final corner but the pace of the VJM06 will have delighted the German.
McLaren’s pace will not have given the Woking squad such cause for optimism with Jenson Button behind Romain Grosjean in eleventh, 1.2s down on Mark Webber. The Briton was forced to use a second set of hard tyres to set that time after an early puncture and that saw Jenson pip Sergio Perez in the sister car by six tenths of a second. Pastor Maldonado split the pair in twelfth with Valtteri Bottas sixteenth in the second FW35 behind the Saubers of Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez, the latter of whom escaped after a spin at turn fourteen.
Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo were seventeenth and eighteenth for Toro Rosso while the honours in the battle of the tailenders were taken by Caterham in FP1 courtesy of Giedo van der Garde who outpaced Jules Bianchi.