© FOTO ERCOLE COLOMBO

Malaysian Grand Prix Practice – Ferrari

Massa sixth and Alonso ninth on a difficult Friday in Sepang

The second practice session has just finished in preparation for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang circuit, round two of the F1 world championship. Mark Webber’s Red Bull set the fastest time (1.36.876) ahead of the two McLarens of Jenson Button (1.36.881) and Lewis Hamilton (1.37.010). Felipe Massa was sixth fastest with 1.38.089, while the other 150° Italia of Fernando Alonso ended up ninth with a lap of 1.38.583.

Apart from significant tyre degradation due to the demands of the track, traffic prevented the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro drivers from getting the most out of the soft tyres on their first lap. Massa finished the session with the same set while Alonso put on hard tyres. Both drivers did some practice starts before coming back to the pits.

The third and final free practice session takes place tomorrow at 1300 local time.

A difficult day in Sepang. A lot of work for the Maranello engineers

It was a busy time for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, on the first day of practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa covered over one hundred laps, much of them in the morning aimed at evaluating various aerodynamic configurations, while in the afternoon, the two drivers concentrated on the more usual Friday programme at a Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso: “Given how things went today, it looks like being a difficult weekend, but we will do all we can to get close to the quickest. Today, things did not go well and we struggled to find a good balance on the car, so this evening we will look at how we can improve. On a track like this, with such variable weather and with tyre degradation being what it is, there will be a lot of factors in play in the fight for the top places and just being quickest will not be enough. This morning we did a lot of work on the aerodynamics to understand what had not worked the way we had expected in Australia, but even if we had been quick in Melbourne, there would still be work to do. This is only the start of the season: we are not quick enough to fight for the win and pole position, but that does not mean that we have to throw in the towel. Instead we have to step up our efforts to quickly reduce the gap that separates us from those who have done a better job than us.”

Felipe Massa: “It’s logical that I had expected and had hoped to be quicker, especially when compared to the two teams that are clearly in front. Let’s see what we can do between this evening and tomorrow to improve the car. There is not much grip and also tyre degradation is very high and, as could be seen in the final part of the second session, when everyone was presumably running with a heavy fuel load, we were not the only ones having a problem. If the race was to take place in the dry, choosing the right strategy would be very complicated. The soft tyres work better, giving much more grip and they are much quicker, although there is a lot of degradation. The hard seems to be slower and, at first, seems a bit more consistent, but it does not last that much longer than the other. We will have to be ready for anything this weekend. In the last two days, we have seen that at the time qualifying and the race are due to start, it always rains. If that also happens in the next two days, anything could happen.”

Pat Fry: “We got through a lot of work on this first day of free practice. In fact, apart from the usual Friday programme, we wanted to carry out a whole series of aerodynamic tests to try and gather as much data as possible on the handling of the car, especially in terms of the front end. In quantitive terms we achieved our aim because the programme was completed as planned. Now it’s up to us to analyse the data and get the answers we are looking for. It will be a tough job, but a vital one to understand in which direction to go in the development of the car. Having done that, we then concentrated on all the usual Friday tasks, which means looking for the best set-up and especially on comparing the two types of tyre we have here. From what we could see, it looks like being a very busy weekend for the pit stop guys, because the degradation, at least in these conditions, seems higher than in Melbourne. The alternative scenario is rain which seems likely for Sunday…From a performance point of view, allowing for all the unknown factors on a Friday, the situation does not seem that different to the one in Australia: our aim is try and make the most of what we have got at our disposal.”

Aero testing in Malaysia

It might seem strange for the official Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro press release to talk about the team having had a busy Friday, doing a lot of work. After all, isn’t that what preparing for a Grand Prix should be all about? Yes, but with factors such as tracks being green and a bit dirty on the first day and a need to conserve tyres and look after engine mileage, it is not always the case that cars run all the time during Friday’s three hours of free practice.

However, having analysed all the data from the opening round of the season in Australia a fortnight ago, the engineers had come up with a very long job list to work through today, adding aerodynamic evaluations to the usual tasks of set-up and tyre comparison. Over a hundred laps between Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa delivered a lot of answers, but they also confirmed that the situation has not changed significantly in terms of the order among the teams, with two of Ferrari’s rivals, Red Bull and McLaren still having the edge over the F150º Italia cars. In fact Felipe Massa ended the day with the sixth fastest time and Fernando Alonso was ninth, although both men encountered traffic on their quick laps.

Mark Webber topped the time sheet for Red Bull Racing, ahead of the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, while reigning world champion, Sebastian Vettel was fourth, with another German who happens to have six more world championship titles than the Red Bull man, Michael Schumacher, fifth for Mercedes ahead of Felipe.

There remains one more hour of free practice, starting tomorrow at 13h00, before qualifying at 16h00. There is a heavy chance of rain for the grid-deciding session, although it has to be said that, at least ninety minutes after that time on Friday, the track was still dry, so maybe a wet track is not as much of a foregone conclusion as the pundits are predicting.