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Friday analysis - Mercedes' competition closes in 28 Mar 2014

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F14 T.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10 makes a pit stop.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams FW36.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Kevin Magnussen (DEN) McLaren MP4-29 talks with the media.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India VJM07 locks up.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR9.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber C33.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 The car of Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E22 is recovered to the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia F1 Team MR03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014 Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Caterham CT05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 28 March 2014

The first two free practice sessions in Malaysia were run in consistent conditions on a dry track and with ambient temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celsius. Generally high reliability enabled most teams to familiarise themselves with Pirelli’s hard and medium tyres and to do race-simulation running. As in Australia, Mercedes led the way, but with a seemingly much reduced advantage. We take a team-by-team look at day one in Kuala Lumpur…

Mercedes
Nico Rosberg, 1m 41.028s, P3/1m 39.909s, P1
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 40.691s, P1/1m 40.051s, P4

Mercedes had few problems as both cars proved quick and reliable, and were fastest in both sessions. Ferrari and Red Bull were closer than one might have expected after Melbourne, but Hamilton said the team focused purely on what they had to do without worrying what the opposition were up to. Tomorrow we’ll know more as fuel loads and the like become consistent across all of the teams.

Ferrari
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 40.843s, P2/1m 39.944s, P2
Fernando Alonso, 1m 41.923s, P11/1m 40.103s, P5

Both F14 Ts ran reliably and enabled their drivers to push hard and set decent times, but neither Alonso nor an on-form Raikkonen, who was much happier with his car’s balance after Melbourne, were inclined to make predictions about their true place in the pecking order until tomorrow.

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 41.523s, P7/1m 39.970s, P3
Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 42.117s, P12/1m 40.276s, P7

Red Bull looked in pretty good shape apart from some software issues which still need ironing out, though one of the cars also had a problem with the fuel system and energy storage. By and large, however, with Vettel only 0.061s off the pace, the team from Milton Keynes began to look like its old menacing self here.

Williams
Felipe Massa, 1m 41.686s, P9/1m 40.112s, P6
Valtteri Bottas, 1m 41.830s, P10/1m 40.638s, P9

Lack of rear-end grip was the big story at Williams, as Massa and Valtteri Bottas struggled a little on the fast swerves of Sepang. Both FW36s were reliable, however, and chassis changes between sessions helped to improve things a little.

McLaren
Jenson Button, 1m 41.111s, P4/1m 40.628s, P8
Kevin Magnussen, 1m 41.274s, P5/1m 41.014s, P12

Button found his modified MP4-29 a handful in the fast sweeps, where it lacked downforce, while Magnussen flat-spotted a tyre in the morning which created a vibration that led a sensor to detect overheating and put the engine into ‘limp home’ mode. In the afternoon he too struggled with overheating rears when he switched to the medium tyres, and was due to spend time tonight poring over Button’s data.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 41.642s, P8/1m 40.691s, P10
Sergio Perez, No time/1m 41.671s, P16

Hulkenberg had a clean run in both sessions, but Perez lost valuable time in FP1 due to fuel system problems.

Toro Rosso
Jean-Eric Vergne, 1m 41.402s, P6/1m 40.777s, P11
Daniil Kvyat, 1m 42.869s, P14/1m 41.325s, P14

Vergne again looked strong as Kvyat learned the track in an F1 car. The Frenchman said he had a near-perfect Friday, while the Russian said he needed a little more from his STR9’s balance.

Sauber
Adrian Sutil, 1m 42.365s, P13/1m 41.257s, P13
Esteban Gutierrez, 1m 42.904s, P15/1m 41.407s, P15

Neither of the C33s had any major problems, but while Sutil thought they had made a step forward with stability under braking as they developed their fly-by-wire system, the cars remained a handful on the track where Perez so nearly won in 2012.

Lotus
Romain Grosjean, No time/1m 42.531s, P17
Pastor Maldonado, No time/No time

Lotus had yet another disaster day. Grosjean stopped early in FP1 with wiring problems and had engine mapping dramas in the afternoon, while Maldonado didn’t get a time in either session after his E22 required an engine change as soon as he made it out towards the end of FP1.

Marussia
Max Chilton, 1m 46.911s, P18/1m 43.638s, P18
Jules Bianchi, 1m 43.825s, P16/1m 43.752s, P19

Marussia had a reasonable day. Chilton lacked pace in FP1 after electrical problems, then spun on his out lap in FP2 before recovering to pip team mate Bianchi.

Caterham
Marcus Ericsson, 1m 45.775s, P17/1m 45.703s, P20
Kamui Kobayashi, 1m 51.180s, P19/No time

Caterham had another troubled day with Kobayashi, as a problem with his CT05’s energy store required replacement for the third time this year. He didn’t get out at all in FP2 as a result. Ericsson lacked pace - he was two seconds off the Marussias, but did maximise his mileage despite understeer and the engine cutting out intermittently.

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