Sepang, 22 March – The hordes of Malaysians who commute by scooter every day have an interesting method of keeping dry; they wear their waterproof jackets with the zips at the back to fend off the driving rain. At the Sepang circuit this afternoon in FP2, the F1 drivers simply chose to drive back into the pits and fit intermediate tyres, as the traditional afternoon storm, not a heavy one today, hit the track. It meant that on the very first day of practice, the Scuderia Ferrari drivers managed to try both the dry weather Pirellis and the Intermediates, so a useful exercise after all. In total, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso completed 84 laps, 48 for the Brazilian and 36 for the Spaniard, ending the day third and fourth fastest respectively. If the weather was predictably unpredictable, equally certain was the fact that tyre degradation was going to be a factor this weekend, thanks to the track having an abrasive surface and the high temperatures. This meant that much of the work during the three hours of free practice revolved around finding a set-up for the F138 that was kind on its tyres. The rain partly spoilt that game plan, as it came just as both Ferrari men were attempting long runs to get data for Sunday’s race. Here, Pirelli has brought the hardest tyre in its range, the Hard and then the Medium which was used last week in Melbourne, although the very different conditions here mean that lessons learned in Australia might not apply here.
Cooling is another key area here and even if the F1 fraternity is well used to the hot and sticky conditions after its fifteen year tenure at this track, dealing with the technicalities of keeping brakes, engines and the humans that drive and work on the cars cool, is still a big part of the workload this weekend. Quickest today was the winner from five days ago in Melbourne, Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus, ahead of Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull. Completing the top six behind the two Ferraristi were Mark Webber in the other Red Bull and Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus.
After running to a normal schedule today, the timetable for Saturday switches to a later start, with FP3 at 13h00 and qualifying at 16h00. That predictably unpredictable weather could once again be the main player in the drama.
Malaysian GP – Malaysian rain shows its hand
Sepang, 22 March – The most interesting Malaysian Grands Prix have always been those affected by the changeable weather. In Sepang the rain arrives bang on time and that included this afternoon, as it appeared 40 minutes into the 90 of the session, affecting the long runs being carried out on dry tyres. Therefore the order on the time sheet was set in the first dry part, with Kimi Raikkonen fastest in 1.36.569 in the Lotus, ahead of Sebastian Vettel (1.36.588) in the Red Bull. Scuderia Ferrari took third and fourth places with Felipe Massa (1.36.661) and Fernando Alonso (1.36.985) respectively. The two men began by completing set-up work on both tyre compounds, the Orange P Zero Hard and the White Medium, before starting a long run interrupted by rain. In the final half hour the track began to dry and cars went out on the Intermediates and finally back on slicks, with no effect on the fastest laps.
Malaysian GP – Torrid Friday conditions
Sepang, 22 March – Red Bull took the top slot in the first practice session of the second round of the Formula 1 World Championship, just a few days after the season opener in Melbourne. Australia’s Mark Webber lapped in 1.36.935, to finish ahead of Kimi Raikkonen (1.37.003) in the Lotus and the other Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel (1.37.104.) As usual, the Malaysian track was a furnace, with air and track temperatures reaching 33 and 42 degrees respectively. Fernando Alonso was fourth in a time of 1.37.319, while in the other Ferrari, Felipe Massa was seventh in 1.37.771. Both men had a programme aimed at finding the right balance on the car and tuning the set-up to suit the orange-banded Hard Pirelli P Zero tyres. The other compound in use here, aimed at being best suited to the extreme heat and the abrasive nature of the track, is the white-banded Medium, which was already used in Australia.