Sunday, 24 March 2013

Malaysia FP1: Red Bull show good pace while Lotus optimise tyre performance.

Two long straights fused at a hairpin and a selection of fast, flowing corners provides contrasting racing from that seen on Australia’s street circuit at Albert Park.   As the Formula One circus arrives at the first racing circuit of the season at Sepang International, thrilling racing packed full of overtaking is anticipated.  


With teams keen to look after their tyres, searching for the optimum time to go out to use the one set they can spare for the session, the first half an hour on track resembled a ghost town.  As the period crept on, a lone Marussia broke the silence.    Max Chilton set the first time of the session with a 1.42.5, a time he cut by a second on his second flying lap.  A few minutes later, Sergio Perez directed his McLaren round the circuit in 1.38.8, around two seconds faster than his more experienced team mate, Jenson Button.   

With 47 minutes left of the session, Grosjean emerged sporting a new front wing for the weekend.  Back to a familiar set up after a poor race in Melbourne, he pushed hard on his initial flying lap, going flat out through turn 13 rumbling over the kerb to record a time of 1.39.3.  Improving this time by one and a half seconds he pounded in a 1.37.9 to go fastest. 

Mercedes showed great pace on their first timed laps with Nico Rosberg setting a time of 1.37.5 on his second flying lap snatching the top spot from the Frenchman.  Red Bull revealed their hand as Rosberg’s time was overshadowed  by Mark Webber’s 1.37.0, which he later improved with a 1.36.9.  Vettel was just behind, 2 tenths off his team mate. 

Webber was fastest in the first practice session.  Photo:

With twenty seven minutes remaining, Esteban Gutierrez lost control into turn 14 after blasting up behind a slow moving Felipe Massa.  This incident was followed by a lock up from Alonso causing a momentary departure from the track.  Completing significantly less laps than the rest of the field, the Ferrari’s of Alonso and Massa finished the session four tenths and eight tenths off the pace respectively. 

After outpacing his team mate following their first flying laps, Adrian Sutil suffered a collapsed front wing after mounting a kerb.  The Force India appeared to be lacking flexibility as the ride height also had to be adjusted on the car of Di Resta.  Sutil was later told over the team radio to stay off the kerbs.  Finishing sixth and eighth fastest, despite their issues, they are emerging as front runners in the midfield, and if they stay true to this form, will overtake McLaren’s position in the pecking order.  William’s dismal start to the season continued as they finished sixteenth and nineteenth fastest. 

Last to set a time was Championship leader Kimi Raikkonen.  Starting the weekend with a new front wing and new bodywork, a KERs issue sprung up during the session requiring major work to be completed during the session.  The Finn’s first flying lap saw him set the second fastest time with a 1.37.4. 

Towards the end of the session degradation of the tyres became evident.  With the teams using the same set of tyres for the whole session, they tumbled over the precipice of peak performance.  After completing sixteen laps, the hard tyres on Sebastian Vettel’s car were propelling rubber missiles across the track and Lewis Hamilton could be heard reporting over the radio that his were destroyed.  Having only completed twelve laps, chunks appeared to be missing from Felipe Massa’s tyres.  Only Lotus, with their flexible car, together with a laid back, smooth Iceman driving style seemed to be able to combat the punishing effects of the double right handed corners on the left front tyre.  Having topped the timesheet, Red Bull showed they have a car with good pace, but lag behind in the quest to optimise tyre performance.  Red Bull and Lotus went into the second practice session evenly matched.  

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