Felipe Massa and Ferrari were dominant in Friday's opening day of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend but McLaren took up the challenge on Saturday morning. Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the final practice session, his best time of 1:34.811 a tenth and a half quicker than Massa in second. Fernando Alonso was third fastest, half a second off teammate Hamilton.
The track temperature was just over 50 degrees at the start of the session and Spyker's Christijan Albers was the first man out on the circuit. He was quickly followed by a stream of others as the installation laps got under way, Super Aguri's Takuma Sato, the Toyota of Jarno Trulli and the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica.
Then came the second Spyker of Adrian Sutil, Ralf Schumacher's Toyota, Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault and the Williams duo of Nico Rosberg and Alex Wurz. Jenson Button's Honda was also quickly out, along with the Red Bulls and Toro Rossos of David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi.
The McLarens of Hamilton and Alonso put in an appearance, as did the Honda of Rubens Barrichello, and Sato clocked the first time of the day, 1:38.217. Only the Ferraris and Renault's Heikki Kovalainen were not on track in the first few minutes but apart from the Super Aguris most cars did not stay out long initially.
Anthony Davidson took over from teammate Sato, 1:38.092, and after another seven or eight minutes a few others returned. Albers went third fastest and Sutil fourth, then Schumacher demoted them both with third. Heidfeld's 1:36.365 was next to the top, Trulli slotting into second, then Kubica posted 1:36.004 to overtake teammate Heidfeld.
Massa was the first of the Ferraris out for an installation lap, while Button clocked fourth fastest and Barrichello eighth. Massa was half a second up on Heidfeld when he put in his first flyer, 1:35.524, and Speed's first timed lap landed him fourth. Hamilton nabbed the second spot on his initial effort, just under two tenths off Massa.
Massa improved slightly to 1:35.332 and Alonso arrived in third, just fractionally behind teammate Hamilton. Coulthard was fifth and Wurz eighth on their first efforts and Liuzzi managed 10th. Kubica climbed to fourth after being moved down the times but there wasn't a great deal of activity, 11 laps the most done by a driver half way through.
Rosberg posted seventh when he eventually set a time and Fisichella followed into a lowly 13th then improved to 11th. Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari finally ventured out after half an hour and posted second fastest, just under two tenths off Massa. There was still no sign of Kovalainen, who apparently had a problem with his Renault.
Sato improved to ninth after being demoted to the midfield and Hamilton suddenly woke up and clocked fastest sectors in one and two for 1:34.811, half a second up on Massa. Button wrestled his Honda back into the top 10 while Massa lowered the gap to Hamilton to a tenth and a half after briefly losing the second spot to Alonso.
Kubica took fourth from Raikkonen and with 10 minutes to go Kovalainen briefly put in an appearance. Davidson climbed to ninth from the low end of the midfield then lost the place to Liuzzi. Schumacher was a late improver to seventh and Webber followed along into eighth. Davidson demoted them both when he took the seventh spot.
Kovalainen eventually posted 17th but there was no change at the front as the session came to a close, Hamilton, Massa and Alonso leading the way. Ferrari has denied that there are any concerns over Raikkonen's engine, which was overheating in Melbourne, but the Finn only did seven laps this morning, which is a bit curious.
BMW looked good again, both cars in the first seven, and the Red Bulls were reasonable just at the edge of the top 10. It could well be a Ferrari on pole but McLaren showed a fairly handy turn of pace so it's not a foregone conclusion. Final top eight classification: Hamilton, Massa, Alonso, Kubica, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Heidfeld, Davidson.