The Finn continues to show the readiness of the new Lotus for the 2013 season. Kimi Raikkonen won the season opener in Australia, and ended Friday practices with the fastest time on the Sepang circuit.
Friday's first practice for the Formula One drivers was the usual session in which they would get the feel of the car and test the Pirelli tyres selected for the event. Setup adjustments would also be made and many would focus on the long runs. Therefore, the second -- afternoon -- 90 minute session would see them clock their best laps on the opening day of the grand prix weekend. However the weather can change the “usual” into high drama.
In the morning session, it was Red Bull-Renault driver Mark Webber who hit the top time with a 1:36.935; yet only 0.068 seconds adrift of the Aussie’s time was the winner of the Australian Grand Prix last Sunday. “It was a pretty smooth run for us today, but we need to improve and keep finding pace," said Webber.
The afternoon session not only saw the speeds pick up but the typical Malaysian rain shower temporary slowed down the times as the drivers switched to the Pirelli intermediate or wet tyres. As the track dried out, the return to the pits for the dry Pirellis for the final minutes but no one could top the fast lap laid down earlier by Raikkonen.
Following the two Renault-powered cars were the Ferrari teammates Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. The Brazilian was a tad faster with a 1:36.661 while the Spaniard clocked his best at a 1:36.985.
Webber was fifth ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean with a 1:37.026; the Frenchman’s fastest lap was a 1:37.206. With his best at 1:37.448, Mercedes Nico Rosberg was seventh while his Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton was ninth fast for the day with a best lap of 1:37.574.
Said Rosberg on what is the common thread by all the Formula 1 drivers: "As we saw in Melbourne, tyre management will be the key to success, so that's our focus for the practice sessions." Hamilton said, "We made some positive steps with the set-up over the two sessions today. I had a good long run in the dry which has given us a lot of information to look at tonight."
Force India’s drivers were eighth and tenth with Paul di Resta a bit quicker than Adrian Sutil.
Once again the McLaren-Mercedes teammates were showing obvious signs of issues that kept them out of the top 10. Sergio Perez was just a tad faster than his more experienced teammate, Jenson Button.
“On a dry track it feels better than it did in Melbourne, but even then its pace still isn’t there compared with that of the front-running cars," said Button. "We’ve identified some further improvements that we can make before tomorrow, though, which is encouraging, and it’s been a good day in terms of learning."
The one common worry by the drivers was how quickly their tyres degraded. The three-time consecutive world champion Vettel commented: "This afternoon we couldn’t do so much due to the weather, but this morning it looked okay, although the tyres don’t last very long!"