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Friday analysis - Mercedes' competition closes in

28 Mar 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.