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Friday analysis - who will challenge at Sepang? 21 Mar 2008

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Mclaren MP4/23 .
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 21 March 2008 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari walks back through the paddock after stopping out on the circuit during practice.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 21 March 2008 Timo Glock (GER) Toyota TF108.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 21 March 2008 Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 21 March 2008 Anthony Davidson (GBR) Super Aguri F1 SA08A.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 21 March 2008

Clearly, after the first day of practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix, it is going to be close between McLaren and Ferrari for the rest of the weekend. That is an obvious conclusion to a day that saw several teams running light to achieve apparently promising times.

Generally, the new surface at Sepang required some rethinking on set-up, but most drivers seemed content with the balance they achieved on Bridgestone’s hard and medium tyres; the major problem for some was in getting the best out of them over a single lap, ready for qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton, 1m 36.626s, P5/1m 35.055s, P1
Heikki Kovalainen, 1m 36.556s, P3/1m 36.512s, P7

McLaren did not rise to the bait this morning as Ferrari set the pace, and for most of the afternoon the red cars continued to rule. But then Hamilton put on the softer tyres and got going for lap times. He was happy with his MP4-23’s consistent pace. His only real problem was with the gear selection at the end of the morning session, but it did not require a change of unit as was first thought. Kovalainen was the faster runner in the morning, and felt he had made a steady start to his weekend as he made progress with chassis set-up.

Felipe Massa, 1m 35.392s, P1/1m 35.206s, P2
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 36.459s, P2/1m 35.428s, P3

Ferrari set the pace all morning, and for most of the afternoon. Massa was fastest in the former, after Raikkonen rolled to a halt after a misunderstanding over fuel load saw him run short. Both drivers said they were happy with the F2008’s performance over a lap on both tyre compounds, though Massa reported that he could not get the best out of his second set of soft tyres in the afternoon when he was upstaged by Hamilton.

Jenson Button, 1m 37.282s, P9/1m 36.037s, P4
Rubens Barrichello, 1m 37.776s, P13/1m 36.879s, P11

On the face of it, a pretty good day for a team that were expected to run right down the back. Button was pleased with the RA108’s performance on the newly resurfaced track, and with its balance, but admitted that it is difficult to assess the team’s exact position relative to the opposition. Comparative fuel loads will be the deciding factor tomorrow. Barrichello was happy with his long runs, but not with the performance he got out of the tyres on their first laps.

Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 38.219s, P15/1m 36.474s, P5
Sebastien Bourdais, 1m 38.798s, P18/No time

Vettel was on excellent form for the team all the way through the afternoon session, lying fourth for much of it until Button’s best lap pushed him down a place. After a brake problem had been solved this morning, the young German really got into it, and ended the day happy with his STR2B’s balance and the tyre data he accrued. Bourdais was relatively happy in the morning, but lost the afternoon session after a gearbox problem arose following a ratio change. In turn, that led to an engine failure.

Jarno Trulli, 1m 37.540s, P10/1m 36.493s, P6
Timo Glock, 1m 37.782s, P14/1m 37.512s, P17

Trulli was happy enough with what he achieved in both sessions, but reported that undisclosed problems needed to be addressed before he could go faster. Glock, driving a new chassis to replace the one damaged in Melbourne, did not get the best out of his tyres on the first lap, and grappled as a result with less grip than his team mate.

BMW Sauber
Robert Kubica, 1m 37.218s, P8/1m 36.671s, P8
Nick Heidfeld, 1m 37.649s, P11/1m 37.106s, P13

BMW Sauber have yet to show the pace they did on Saturday in Melbourne. Though the mood remained optimistic in the Swiss-German camp, Kubica lost time in the morning with a gearbox problem which necessitated a change. The Pole thereafter focused on testing different levels of downforce and tyre evaluation. Heidfeld had a couple of off-course moments, but said he was happy and that the F1.08 was better balanced here than it had been initially in Melbourne.

Force India
Giancarlo Fisichella, 1m 39.046s, P19/1m 36.756s, P9
Adrian Sutil, 1m 41.269s, P22/1m 37.614s, P18

Fisichella said he had a productive day with 58 laps of the circuit under his wheels and the ninth fastest tine in the afternoon. Few doubt the latter was a low-fuel run, but the Italian said it would have been quicker still had Timo Glock not costs him a few tenths in one corner. He was particularly happy with the improvement in the handling between the sessions. Sutil, by comparison, had an interrupted day. Engine failure claimed him in the morning, and in the afternoon he struggled with the balance.

Kazuki Nakajima, 1m 37.649s, P12/1m 36.838s, P10
Nico Rosberg, 1m 36.578s, P4/1m 36.908s, P12

On the face of it, Williams had a slow day, but Rosberg looked competitive while hunting fast times in the morning before falling back in the afternoon as he completed race preparation work. The German was quite content, and said he was happy with his day’s work. Nakajima had a small problem with the clutch release bearing in the morning. He also had a spin, but it was an otherwise productive day for him.

Fernando Alonso, 1m 37.022s, P6/1m 37.328s, P14
Nelson Piquet Jr, 1m 37.034s, P7/1m 37.331s, P15

The good news for rookie Nelson Piquet was that he faithfully shadowed his illustrious team mate in both sessions, boosting his confidence after his difficult debut in Australia. Knowing the circuit definitely helped him, and he completed his planned programme with no problems. Alonso, however, encountered a gearbox issue in the afternoon which affected his programme a little.

Red Bull
Mark Webber, 1m 38.707s, P17/1m 37.346s, P16
David Coulthard, 1m 38.232s, P16/No time

Red Bull had another tough day. Coulthard and Webber were 16th and 17th in the morning, when the Australian had an engine failure. The Scot’s suspension broke after he ran over the Turn 13 kerb, and he did not run in the afternoon as the stewards announced that they wished to see team representatives to assess the strength of the suspension components.

Super Aguri
Takuma Sato, 1m 40.178s, P20/1m 39.021s, P19
Anthony Davidson, 1m 40.351s, P21/1m 39.361s, P20

Survival is the name of the game right now for Super Aguri, but both SA08s did more running than they had on the opening day in Australia. Again there was a small overheating problem on Sato’s car in the morning, but that was soon sorted and both he and Davidson said they were happy with the balance by the end of the afternoon.