In the final 60 minutes of practice before the Malaysian Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen was the man to beat being the only driver to break into the 1m31s ahead of the chequered flag. It was another strong day for Ferrari as Sebastian Vettel made it a one-two just before having to finish his session early with car issues. Mercedes were still within punching distance but appear to still have problems themselves, with their fastest car placing fourth.
Raikkonen was the first driver to set a competitive lap time in today’s session, and after being dropped down the timing screen by Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas he put in an unbeatable lap time in his qualifying simulation to finish the session with a 1:31.880. The Finn was the only driver to break into the 1m31s, with teammate Vettel finishing 0.162 seconds off that pace with a 1:32.042.
However, the morning did not end how Ferrari would have wanted it to as they were forced to stop Vettel ealy and change his engine. Concerning data and the slowing of Vettel’s car alerted the team to the issue. With this engine change before qualifying, Vettel brings himself to the brink of an engine penalty. Having now taken on his fifth engine of the season, if he has to change his engine again before the final round in Abu Dhabi he will be handed a 25-place grid drop.
Ricciardo had looked to be the man on top of the game when he put in a fastest lap time six-tenths faster than any of the top two teams had managed. He finished the session third, splitting the Ferraris from the Mercedes and only half a tenth off of Vettel’s fastest time. He will definietly be one to watch in qualifying and the race. Ricciardo has already proved he is able to optimise oppurtunities and if there is any issues at the front he could be in the running for another win this season.
Mercedes had another torrid day as Championship-leader Hamilton could go no faster than fifth. He was the only one in the top five to not improve after his original flying time that had put him on top earlier on in the session. A mistake in the final corner of his final flying lap cost the Brit some time. The Brackley-based team brought a big upgrate to their title sponsor’s home race, including a revised front wing, ‘spoon’ deflector, bargreboards and floor. However, so far the team appears to have struggled around the Sepang circuit in comparrison to their rivals. In a bid to ind answers to their pace struggles, the team has split the packages over the two cars, with Hamilton now running the old spec f the car and Bottas still runing the updates.
Where Max Verstappen has usually had the pace over Ricciardo, but no luck in the races; the same could not be said for today. Verstappen struggled to stay with the top five, ending sixth, after contact with Jolyon Palmer’s Renault. Palmer, who currently has no drive for next season, was having a very scrappy session. He tried to dive down the inside of the Dutch driver but locked up, careering straight into the Red Bull. Damage on Palmer’s front wing and a reported puncture for Verstappen got them both a ticket to the stewards office.
It was a tight battle in the midfield as seventh to fifteenth was covered by just under a second. It is going to be a tough battle to get into Q2 and into Q3 if the pace this morning is any indicator. Sergio Perez took the spot of ‘best of the rest’ after a mid-session fight with teammate Esteban Ocon. Felipe Massa split the two Force Indias for eighth whilst Stoffel Vandoorne kept McLaren’s consistency of having a car in the top ten this weekend with tenth. Teammate Fernando Alonso was just outside the top ten.
Haas had another terrible day with an engine issue on Kevin Magnussen’s car keeping the Dane in the garage for most of the session. After his mechanics had worked into the early hours of the morning to fix his car, Grosjean once again had a difficult session. Spinning at the scene of yesterday’s accident, he picked up a flat spot and had to abort his flying lap, finish 18th. Even after the delay, Magnussen managed to get back on track and set the 13th fastest time before the chequered flag dropped.