Ferrari's Felipe Massa remained at the top of the time sheet in Friday's second practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix, although his time was more than half a second slower than his best in the morning session. The Brazilian clocked 1:35.780 in the afternoon and teammate Kimi Raikkonen was once again fourth, just under four tenths off.
"We tried both types of tyre available to us and also tried various set-up changes on the F2007, starting off from the basis of what we learnt in the test last week at this track," Massa said. "Obviously, there is still a lot to do with qualifying and the race in mind, but the weekend has got off to a positive start."
In between the Ferraris were the Renaults of Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen, a jump up the times from the morning. Fisichella was just over a tenth off Massa and Kovalainen was a couple of tenths further off in third. Both drivers were two seconds quicker than they had been in the first session so perhaps Renault is not so far off the pace as it seemed.
"The balance of the car is not too bad, but we are lacking grip, and that makes the car nervous and inconsistent to drive," said Fisichella. "Of course, the hot conditions always mean grip levels are lower, but we made some decent progress today -- and hopefully that can continue tomorrow."
Kovalainen was happy enough with his day. "The heat makes life tough here, and it is going to be a long, hard race but I feel well prepared after the test," he commented. "In terms of competitiveness, we don't really know where we stand at the moment, as we can't know what the other teams were doing. But the picture will become clearer tomorrow."
Williams continued to look competitive with Nico Rosberg fifth and Alex Wurz sixth. Test driver Kazuki Nakajima had been behind the wheel in the morning in place of Wurz and was also a top 10 runner, so Williams seems quite healthy on this first day at Sepang. However, Rosberg and Wurz were still over half a second off the lead Ferrari.
BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica was seventh on the time sheet and after tester Sebastian Vettel was on duty in the morning, Nick Heidfeld was in the cockpit this afternoon and posted the 10th fastest time. The German media is speculating that Heidfeld may replace Ralf Schumacher at Toyota next year but both Heidfeld and Schumacher, of course, deny it.
The McLarens were up front with Ferrari in the opening practice but this afternoon Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were relegated to ninth and 12th respectively. They were both over a second off Massa's time but didn't appear to have any problems -- early in the session both had been at the top of the time sheet so the final result is probably a bit misleading.
Mark Webber was the best of the Red Bulls in 11th, two ahead of teammate David Coulthard. Webber suffered some kind of problem in the last half hour and the car ground to a halt on the circuit. The Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed were 17th and 20th, both ahead of one of the Spykers, which will please Colin Kolles no end.
Takuma Sato was the faster of the Super Aguris in 14th, once again in front of both Hondas. The second Super Aguri of Anthony Davidson was 18th while Honda could only manage 15th with Jenson Button and 21st for Rubens Barrichello. Honda was supposed to be having a major aero update for this weekend but it doesn't look encouraging so far.
Adrian Sutil put his Spyker 19th and teammate Christijan Albers caused a red flag period towards the end when his car suffered a right rear puncture. There was quite a lot of debris on the track and the red flag was out for about five minutes while it was cleared. Albers was over four seconds off the pace, although Sutil was bit better at two and a half.
It was quite an interesting Friday -- Ferrari is evidently still the pacesetter but is Renault up to the challenge? Certainly the French squad wasn't impressive in the morning but the afternoon showed the speed is there. But let's not forget that Massa was over half a second off his earlier time so perhaps Renault isn't quite as quick as it seems.
For McLaren it was the other way round, on Ferrari's tail in the morning but over a second off this time. You don't really know what people are up to in practices so there's no point reading too much into it. Williams impressed again, although Toyota was not on its earlier pace, and the rest were pretty much where one would expect.
The biggest non-show was Honda but is that really the true state of affairs? It's disappointing if it is but I know I've been a bit harsh on poor old Honda lately so let's wait and see. As ever, Saturday will give us a better picture. Final top eight classification: Massa, Fisichella, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Wurz, Kubica, Schumacher.