McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in Friday’s opening practice for the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s time of one minute, 34.921 seconds was the quickest around the Sepang circuit, just under two-tenths of a second faster than Nico Rosberg of Mercedes, who set his best time on his last lap.
Their respective teammates, Jenson Button of McLaren and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, were third and fourth fastest in a dry qualifying session that may prove of little value for race preparations if rain arrives as forecast for Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s GP.
Renault’s Robert Kubica was fifth on the timesheets, ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber, Force India’s Adrian Sutil and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Both McLaren and Mercedes had said publicly that their emphasis in practice sessions would be to prepare the cars for the low-fuel conditions of qualifying rather than the heavy fuel loads of the race, believing that held the key to success on Sunday, given how difficult it had become to overtake in F1 under the new ban on in-race refueling.
That explained their fast times Friday, while the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull tested other set-ups and were further down the times. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who has had the fastest but not the most reliable car in the opening two races, was only ninth while Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was 11th.
McLaren was also benefiting from its F-duct aerodynamic system, which delivers very quick speeds on Sepang’s two long straights.
The three new teams again filled the bottom six slots in practice times, with Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy 22nd of 24 cars before his home fans. He was temporarily deputizing for Heikki Kovalainen at Lotus.
Several cars ran off the track but there were no serious incidents. Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari had an engine problem which ground him to a halt at the top of pitlane and he had to be pushed back to the garage.