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Friday analysis - Red Bull spring a surprise, Ferrari fire a warning

27 Mar 2015

Conditions proved consistent on Friday in Kuala Lumpur, allowing the teams to complete their assessments of Pirelli's hard- and medium-compound tyres and to do some race simulation runs. And while Mercedes hit the front as expected, they were given pause for thought by Ferrari - who themselves appear to be only fractions of a second ahead of Williams and a resurgent Red Bull. With tyre degradation causing headaches all along the pit lane, we could be set for a fascinating battle at Sepang...

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, No time/1m 39.790s, P1
Nico Rosberg, 1m 40.124s, P1/1m 40.218s, P3

Mercedes' day was mixed. Rosberg set the pace in FP1 and looked his usual confident self in doing so, but Hamilton didn't record a time before an engine inlet problem brought him to a halt. In the afternoon it was the German who struggled, nearly going off on his best run on Pirelli's mediums, and Hamilton who rose majestically to the challenge to slam in the fastest time. Ferrari are threatening, but Hamilton said his crew had no time to hone the set-up of his car and just used carryover settings from Melbourne, so it's fair to assume that there's still a bit of time in the F1 W06 Hybrid.

Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 40.497s, P2/1m 40.163s, P2
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 40.985s, P3/1m 40.652s, P7

Ferrari looked so strong all day that their speed is definitely on Mercedes' radar. They might have been closer too to Hamilton in FP2, but both Raikkonen and Vettel lost strong-looking laps on the Pirelli mediums when the session was red flagged after Merhi's spin in Turn 11. Vettel subsequently produced a carbon copy of the incident, but otherwise it was a very promising day for the Scuderia.

Red Bull

Daniil Kvyat, 1m 42.055s, P9/1m 40.346s, P4
Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 41.787s, P6/1m 41.799s, P10

Red Bull looked much more convincing here than they did in Melbourne, thanks to reverting to some Renault engine settings from testing. They were tried and tested and less aggressive than those used in the first race, and the resultant improved driveability played a big part in both drivers being able to get more out of the RB11. Ricciardo, however, had an engine problem in the afternoon when his machine went on to five cylinders, and towards the end of that session Kvyat complained of upshift problems between second and third, and third and fourth, gears.

Williams

Valtteri Bottas, 1m 41.882s, P8/1m 40.450s, P5
Felipe Massa, 1m 43.103s, P11/1m 40.560s, P6

Neither of the FW37s looked very hooked up in the morning, and later Massa explained that an experimental set-up had not worked out. Once the cars reverted to a more standard configuration their speed came through with fifth and sixth places in FP2, though Kvyat's presence in fourth was a rude surprise. There was also a sting in the tail when the team were given a suspended 10,000 euro fine when Massa was found to have used his initial set of hard tyres for fractionally too long in FP1.

Toro Rosso

Max Verstappen, 1m 41.803s, P7/1m 41.220s, P8
Carlos Sainz Jnr, 1m 41.596s, P5/1m 42.291s, P14

Once again Toro Rosso's STR10 looked good. Sainz was very quick in FP1, but less so in FP2 when he admitted that he didn't manage the traffic well enough to get a decent time out of the medium Pirellis. Verstappen, meanwhile, played himself in during the morning session, and was then quick in the afternoon. All signs point towards them being points contenders again.

Sauber

Marcus Ericsson, 1m 42.064s, P10/1m 41.261s, P9
Felipe Nasr (FP2 only), 1m 41.988s, P12
Raffaele Marciello (FP1 only), 1m 42.621s, P13

Sauber had a decent day, with Ericsson getting through his programme in both sessions and Nasr getting into the swing when he got his C34 back from rookie Marciello in the afternoon. The Italian did a very good job to place 13th as he learned both car and track in FP1.

Lotus

Pastor Maldonado, 1m 42.567s, P12/1m 41.877s, P11
Romain Grosjean, 1m 41.543s, P4/1m 42.948s, P18

Lotus had a promising morning, with Grosjean a strong fourth, but a taxing afternoon as the Frenchman had to stop early with a repeat of the hose attachment problems that stopped him in Australia. Maldonado, meanwhile, had problems with the attachment of his left sidepod in FP2, but was 11th overall. There's plenty of promise in the E23 Hybrid, but it still needs to be unlocked.

Force India

Sergio Perez, 1m 43.054s, P16/1m 42.242s, P13
Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 42.893s, P15/1m 42.330s, P15

Force India continued to suffer from their dearth of pre-season testing, and Perez in particular spent time experimenting with the track limits. His long-run pace was good, however, with less tyre degradation than Hulkenberg's.

McLaren

Fernando Alonso, 1m 42.885s, P14/1m 42.506s, P16
Jenson Button, 1m 43.100s, P17/1m 42.637s, P17

Despite their lowly 16th and 17th positions, lack of power, massive understeer and difficulties under braking which in particular saw Alonso going off on several occasions, both the Spaniard and Button were adamant that the team are making good progress. Things looked scrappy, but despite that there's an air of optimism that they should be able to fight for points here, so long as the shrink-wrapped rear bodywork doesn't cause cooling problems in what is traditionally a very tough race.

Marussia

Will Stevens, 1m 46.686s, P18/1m 45.704s, P19
Roberto Merhi, 1m 47.683s, P19/1m 47.229s, P20

Marussia got both cars out early in FP1 and Stevens in particular did a good job to get within 107 percent of Rosberg's best lap. Merhi got going later after a problem getting full throttle had been rectified. In the afternoon Stevens again looked strong and was within 107 percent, but just as he was getting going Merhi got caught out in Turn 11. The Spanish rookie was in good company, however, as Vettel then did the same and Rosberg only just got away with a big wobble.

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