A1 Team Germany's Nico Hulkenberg has set the benchmark for this weekend's Astro A1GP Sepang, Malaysia, setting the fastest times in today's two practice sessions. The 19-year-old set a stunning lap time of 1:51.789secs on his first flying lap,...
A1 Team Germany's Nico Hulkenberg has set the benchmark for this weekend's Astro A1GP Sepang, Malaysia, setting the fastest times in today's two practice sessions. The 19-year-old set a stunning lap time of 1:51.789secs on his first flying lap, over three seconds quicker than last season's Sepang pole time.
In a session interrupted by rain, Hulkenberg was over one second faster than China's Congfu Cheng and New Zealand's Jonny Reid.
Hulkenberg's lack of experience of the 5.5km track clearly did not hamper his speed as he also posted the fastest time in the morning's session to pip South Africa's Adrian Zaugg to the top by just 0.025secs. He repeated the impressive performance in the afternoon's one hour free practice session, clearly stating his determination to repeat his Zandvoort race win in October. "I think it was a good lap, but I have a car that is good not only for one lap but it is consistent," Hulkenberg commented, "As a driver you have to look after your tyres for a long race, and I am looking forward to that, but practice is always something different and qualifying as well. However, today we looked pretty good. The heat is the big theme and I think it will be getting tough for the driver at the end of the races. I am looking forward to it and think we have a great car.
Speaking at the press conference after the final session, Hulkenberg looked forward to racing on the fast, flowing Sepang after the tricky, tight Beijing circuit, "This is a big difference to Beijing and another challenge. I liked Beijing a lot. I heard people who didn't like it but I liked the walls as it was like being in a cage, man against man and I liked the track a lot as you could push. However, here there is just one line and if you go off it mistakes are easy to make."
A1 Team China's Congfu Cheng, sixth fastest in the morning's session, posted the second quickest time in the second practice, but his preparations were shortened after just a handful of laps when he ran wide into a gravel trap and became stuck. Cheng's early speed however proved key when the heavy rain fell midway through the hour and lap times dropped. New Zealand's Jonny Reid, back in the car for the first time since Brno, had a successful day's running, setting the fourth fastest time in the earlier practice and third in the afternoon.
Home team Malaysia also had a strong showing, with Fairuz Fauzy third in the morning's classification, just 0.060secs slower than Hulkenberg. Team-mate Alex Yoong completed limited running before the rain fell to set the sixth quickest time, "It is a disadvantage at the moment not being in the practice session but I hope as the weekend goes on it will prove not to be a disadvantage. Certainly for today it will be a disadvantage as for those who do not do the earlier session we do not get the best out of the tyres. In Nico's case he had a morning session and he came out and was strong, " Yoong credited the young German on his stunning performance, "There is nothing to take away from Nico's lap. It was really a stunning lap and I don't think anyone could imagine beating that even if we had done the session. From driving we will find more time so I am sitting here thinking of that more than anything at the moment."
Yoong admitted the rain had interrupted his running, "When the rain came it started on this side of the circuit so I got it in the middle of turns five and six and there was a big moment because the rain comes down here very fast, but you just have to expect it really. I think you just can't plan for the rain as it happens so fast here and stops so quickly as well. You have just got to plan to be as flexible as you can and try to react to every change that happens." Qualifying could be a lottery, he suggested, "I think the people may be watching the cars go round but I can assure you the team members will be watching the sky.
The action resumes tomorrow with a further free practice session and four 15 minute qualifying segments between 14.15 and 15.30 that will determine the grid for Sunday's Sprint race. With a high chance of rain, results will be unpredictable and strategy will be even more important than ever.