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FP2 - Rosberg tops tightly contested session in Malaysia

28 Mar 2014

Mercedes continued to set the pace in the second free practice session in Sepang this afternoon, but it was a close-run thing between the German manufacturer, Ferrari and Red Bull.

This time it was Nico Rosberg ahead, after Lewis Hamilton was fastest in FP1, but the German's 1m 39.909s lap on Pirelli's medium tyre was a mere 0.035s faster than Kimi Raikkonen's 1m 39.944s and 0.61s better than Sebastian Vettel's 1m 39.970s. This time Hamilton was fourth on 1m 40.051s, 0.142s down on his team mate. Overall, the fastest 11 cars were bracketed within one second.

As usual, teams ran the hard tyre initially and then worked on the medium. Some, especially McLaren's Kevin Magnussen, found their cars oversteering initially on the softer compound, as the track continued to rubber in. Later, teams focused on longer race-simulation runs.

Fernando Alonso was fifth in his Ferrari on 1m 40.103s, as Felipe Massa took his oversteering Williams to 1m 40.112s ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo (1m 40.276s), McLaren's Jenson Button (1m 40.628s), Williams' Valtteri Bottas (1m 40.638s), Force India's Nico Hulkenberg (1m 40.691s) and Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne (1m 40.777s).

Magnussen sat out the early stages but returned to set the 12th best time of 1m 41.014s which left him just ahead of Adrian Sutil in the lead Sauber on 1m 41.257s. Next up were Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso on 1m 41.325s, Esteban Gutierrez on 1m 41.407s in the second Sauber and Sergio Perez in the second Force India who got going after his morning problems to post 1m 41.671s.

Behind them there was a big gap to Romain Grosjean, who finally got some laps on his troubled Lotus E22 and recorded a best of 1m 42.531s before yet again pulling off track with mechanical problems. Team mate Pastor Maldonado, who had a range of power unit problems, did not run at all.

Max Chilton goofed by spinning at Turn 3 very early on, but later outran Marussia team mate Jules Bianchi, 1m 43.638s to 1m 43.752s. Caterham's problems continued as Marcus Ericsson couldn't better 1m 45.703s, though he at least did a lot of laps again. Team mate Kamui Kobayashi was again kept in the garage with ongoing energy store problems.

Chilton wasn't the only miscreant; Vergne spun at Turn 15, where Hulkenberg twice went off, while Ricciardo went through the gravel at Turn 11 right at the end.

Whilst Mercedes remained at the head of the field, the early indications are that they, Red Bull and Ferrari have similar race pace. Hamilton and Rosberg used differing techniques to get their speed: the former was requested to wind back his pace so that his fuel consumption matched predictions, while the latter was advised to brake later while practising 'lift and coast'. Remember how the German was asked to stay behind the Englishman here last year, as Hamilton had to conserve fuel on his way to the podium?

Tyre degradation could also be a key issue on Sunday as both Red Bull and Ferrari suffered late into their runs. But before the race there's the small issue of qualifying - and judging by Friday's running it promises to be keenly contested.