Red Bull’s Max Verstappen topped the times in a wet first practice session by seven-tenths over team-mate Daniel Ricciardo ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix. While in second practice it was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who topped the times over his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen by six-tenths.
Red Bull v Ferrari
Red Bull and Ferrari appear as if they are the teams with the advantage this weekend. They looked to have the advantage over Mercedes, however, I wouldn’t read too deeply into Red Bull’s pace in FP1 as they do perform better in wet and while yes this is a high-speed circuit where the Renault power unit struggles.
Ferrari’s pace in FP2 I feel is more reprehensive as it was a dry session and Vettel set a new lap record on his way to going fastest. After the session, we know that Verstappen said they could have unlocked more from the car.
Verstappen said “I think today was positive. Of course, compared to Ferrari it can be better but it’s not a bad performance and we still end the day ahead of Mercedes. From my side, I was trying quite a few set-up changes on the car.”
I came in and changed the car but you always know that on used tyres it’s not fantastic to do a lap, but I still improved my time by four tenths”
Ricciardo added “We were both looking pretty good in the wetter conditions and on the intermediates we were at the pace and significantly quicker than everyone else. This afternoon we weren’t that competitive looking at Ferrari, but it looked like Mercedes struggled as well.”
Vettel said “This afternoon it was better and the cars seemed to be quite ok right from the beginning of the session. Then we tried something new, but unfortunately, we couldn’t complete our programme as we had wished to, because of the red flag.”
“We would have liked to drive a little bit more, but overall it was a decent afternoon. We have a good car and it’s up to us to make it work in all conditions”.
Mercedes were surprisingly well off their normal pace in both of the practice sessions. In FP2, Lewis Hamilton could only manage sixth fastest after an off in the session and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas was only seventh.
Sepang was expected to be a circuit which favoured Mercedes but they were over a second off the pace set by Sebastian Vettel because of what they called a “gremlin.” The result amounted to one of the team’s most uncomfortable – and unexpectedly difficult – days in recent memory.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said “”It was a very difficult session for us. We struggled from the get go this morning, in the wet, in the dry, on all tyres. We need to find out overnight what it is. There is a fundamental issue in the car that we need to find out.”
Hamilton added “The car was terrible in the rain,” said Hamilton. “At the last race the car was really good in the rain, this morning the car was just as bad as it was in P2 in the dry.
“It doesn’t work in whatever condition at the moment, so we’ve really got to understand why and make some changes”!
Pierre Gasly is making his debut this weekend as a race driver, replacing Daniil Kvyat. In FP1 he was paired with the team’s test driver Sean Gelael and he was two tenth faster than the Indonesian. In FP2, his team-mate for the rest of the weekend Carlos Sainz was almost a tenth slower than him.
That is a decent start for Gasly and we know he won last years GP2 (Formula Two) title and has been going strong in Super Formula, where he remains in contention for the title at the next round at Suzuka in four weeks. Also in the Formula E round for Renault in New York, he was fourth in the second race.
But these next few races are key for him in proving he is ready for a race seat next year.
News in brief
Chinese renew contract – Formula One bosses have confirmed the contract for the Chinese Grand Prix has been renewed until 2020. China is been made a key target for Liberty as they look to grow the sport in the region.
Organisers also agreed to swap places with the Bahrain Grand Prix on next year’s calendar, making the Chinese Grand Prix the third round of the season rather than the second.
McLaren losses – McLaren have posted a £3.2m loss for 2016 as a result of the reduced prize money it received thanks to the poor first season of its reunion with Honda. The racing business however made a profit of £5.2m, but that’s down £3.8m on 2015.
In second Practice Haas’s Romain Grosjean had an accident after Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen lifted up a drain cover. The Frenchman was running along the kerb then hit the raised drain cover cuts his rear tyre. That sends him into the spin, as you see the inner band of the tyre fall off.
That sends him off onto the run off across the gravel and into the tyre wall. There was nothing really he could do after the tyre blew as it made him a passenger and he escaped with out injury.
Grosjean said “. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much long running due to the drain coming out and the crash. That ended our day. I think there are some positives. We’ve made some changes on the car that worked pretty well. I’m feeling sorry for the boys, as they’ve got to work hard to repair the car, but I know they will do it and in a good way.”
McLaren in top form
This weekend McLaren has brought an aerodynamic upgrade which appears if it is working and delivering more downforce to the car. It was expected that Sepang would be a challenge for McLaren, due to the power deficit of the Honda engine.
But Sepang is an unusual circuit as it is about high speed and downforce so its about finding the balance between the two. However, in FP1, Alonso I feel didn’t show his true pace and I think that FP2 lap was bragging rights.
However, I feel they will be in the mix with Williams, Toro Rosso and Force India in the race. But we didn’t see much from Stoffel Vandoorne who says he struggled on track, firstly because of the conditions in FP1 and then like
Alonso said “We tried several different configurations, and they proved all positive, so we need to go through the data tonight to decide what to do. The car feels good on this circuit, with a lot of grip when using the Supersoft tyre.
“We missed some running due to the red flag at the end of the second session, but that happened to most of the teams. We’ll try to catch up with that work tomorrow in P3, if it doesn’t rain.”
Vandoorne said “The conditions were a little bit tricky this morning, particularly this Tarmac, which felt quite slippery in the wet. This morning, there was limited running for everyone, because we were all saving tyres – the weather for the remainder of the weekend looks fairly unpredictable, so we need to look after the wet-weather tyres.”
Valtteri Bottas P1 – 7th, P2 – 7th “Some work to do for us as a team after a day of lacking pace. Hope for a better tomorrow ???? #F1 #MalaysianGP #VB77 @MercedesAMGF1”
Carlos Sainz P1 – DNS, P2 – 16th “day full of trouble and very few turns but will try to recover all morning! ?”
Tomorrow’s qualifying session will again be a fight between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. I expect Mercedes have been scratching their heads a bit as to why they were so far off the pace of the others, but the questions will have they really understood problems they had in Singapore and today.
McLaren could throw up a surprise as they are performing better than we thought. Looking at the weather forecast there is some rain around during FP3, but we are in the tropics so it could stay or avoid the circuit. But, as always if that wet weather does come that will as ever mean being on track at the right time.