Category Archives: Practice Reports

Fernando & Jenson share spoils on disjointed day

AS IN Barcelona two weeks ago, it was Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button who shared the spoils of ending up fastest in the first two practice sessions for a Grand Prix.  Alonso set the pace for Ferrari by nearly half a second in FP1 and Button managed to squeeze in a run on the super soft tyre in the afternoon session on a disjointed opening day of the Monaco Grand Prix meeting.  Sunday’s race is likely to be decided by qualifying positions and once again, durability of the Pirelli tyre compound and little was given away today.

This is because all the teams were affected by the lack of dry running.  Persistent rain showers in the second practice session meant Monaco looked more like Britain did in April.  The weather gods seem to have given us in the UK the traditional weather at the moment reserved for Monte Carlo in late May!  Despite the lack of dry running, Lewis Hamilton has an inklin of who will be setting the frontrunning pace at the weekend.  He told formula1.com; “I think today we got a bit of an understanding of how quick people are.  The Lotus looks pretty quick and I am not quite sure what Red Bull is up to.  Ferrari looks fast and so do we.  So first you have the usual suspects, but we have seen before that it would be dead wrong to underestimate all others.”

Hamilton was impressed by Lotus and it looked like the Enstone team have the most consistent and best handling car so far around the Princiapality.  Romain Grosjean put in a string of fastest laps together in the first practice session and ended an impressive second in both sessions.  Grosjean has a good record from his GP2 days and has to be considered as a contender, providing he keeps it clean for the rest of the weekend.  He said afterwards to BBC Sport; “I like Monaco.  I like the track; it’s good fun.  The car is going well at the moment and let’s see what we can do later on.  It is important to have a car you are confident with.”  Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had a very frustrating day, failing to set a time in the first session after the team made a steering rack adjustment in the pits that didn’t go to plan.  With just an installation lap under his belt, the rain wrecked Raikkonen’s hopes in FP2 and he is now playing catch-up going into Saturday’s sessions.

The Ferrari looks mighty and had much better aerodynamic and mechanical grip, which was a clear weakness in the early season races.  Alonso is a double winner around here and can’t be counted out at whatever cost.  He set the pace in the first session, which was held under bright blue skies.  Under fire Felipe Massa had a much better day today, finishing sixth and third in the two sessions.  His car seemed to still be a handful and a little kiss with the wall in FP1 at Tabac allowed race engineer Rob Smedley to produce another of his great soundbites on the team radio; “A kiss is needed in Monaco, you need to do a nice kiss!”  

There was only 20 minutes of dry running in FP2 and Button had the time to see how the super soft tyre would work.  Trailing by 16 points in the championship, Jenson will be keen to make up for a difficult time in both Bahrain and Spain and his afternoon time of 1.15.746 was the fastest of the day.  Only the Sauber drivers and Pastor Maldonado managed time on the super soft tyre before the heavens opened in the afternoon and none of those three looked to have the pace Button did on a single lap.

World champions Red Bull continue to be a mystery as neither Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber looked like challenging the top times.  Seventh for Webber in FP2 was their best effort today and if the Milton Keynes team isn’t lucky, they could be looking at another mediocre weekend.

Kovalainen gets out of his blown up Caterham engine in FP1 (Planet F1)

As ever, Monaco caught many drivers out with Mirabeau being a real handful in the damp conditions.  Massa, Sergio Perez and both Williams drivers were caught out, although none hit the barriers.  The Nouvelle chicane saw many cars cut part of it off as they tested the braking limits of their cars; Narain Karthikeyan being a notable offender for HRT.  The first session was also brought to an unscheduled early end when Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham Renault engine blew up spectacularly in the tunnel, dumping contents of oil and coming to a halt on the tunnel exit.

It was a day where little could be judged on prestigious pace and only in FP3 should it remain dry can we begin to see who are the genuine contenders for pole position in qualifying.

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE ONE CLASSIFICATION

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 22 1.16.265
2 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 17 1.16.630
3 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 19 1.16.711
4 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 12 1.16.747
5 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 20 1.16.760
6 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 19 1.16.843
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 21 1.17.038
8 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 13 1.17.190
9 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 14 1.17.222
10 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 18 1.17.261
11 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 14 1.17.413
12 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 18 1.17.631
13 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 14 1.18.106
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 25 1.18.209
15 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 28 1.18.252
16 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 16 1.18.302
17 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 20 1.18.617
18 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 20 1.19.039
19 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 16 1.19.341
20 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 26 1.20.838
21 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 18 1.20.895
22 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 9 1.21.638
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 15 1.22.423
24 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 1 NO TIME

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE TWO CLASSIFICATION

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 17 1.15.746
2 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 19 1.16.138
3 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 21 1.16.602
4 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 23 1.16.661
5 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 20 1.16.820
6 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 15 1.17.021
7 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 23 1.17.148
8 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 22 1.17.153
9 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 11 1.17.293
10 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 21 1.17.303
11 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 19 1.17.375
12 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 21 1.17.395
13 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 18 1.17.655
14 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 25 1.17.800
15 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 24 1.18.251
16 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 25 1.18.440
17 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 22 1.18.522
18 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 26 1.18.808
19 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 25 1.19.267
20 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 29 1.19.309
21 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 13 1.20.029
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 21 1.20.240
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 12 1.20.631
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 10 1.20.866
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Button quickest on day one as F1 returns to Europe

BRITAIN’s Jenson Button set the fastest time in second practice for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, the first European race of the season.  The winner of the Australian Grand Prix lapped 0.164secs quicker than Bahrain winner and world champion Sebastian Vettel.  Fernando Alonso gave the home fans something to cheer about this morning by setting the pace in the first practice session.

It was a day where it was difficult to judge who has the ultimate pace around the Circuit de Catalunya.  Button admitted afterwards that despite a solid day, he was confused about the tyres here, likely to play a significant role in the outcome of the fifth round of the championship.  On his team radio this morning, he complained of terrible understeer and couldn’t get a balance on the hard tyres.  Team-mate Lewis Hamilton used the radio to moan about his gear ratios on his way to fourth quickest this afternoon.  McLaren have brought a raft of updates to this race, like most of the teams.  The most obvious change is a higher nosecone section and neither driver seemed to have issues with what was tried out at the Mugello test last weekend, so this will remain for the crucial qualifying session tomorrow.

Red Bull have brought more subtle, if not so obvious updates to their package and it seems like the Milton Keynes team continue to understand what they have underneath them.  Vettel had a trouble free day on his way to second place in both sessions and probably carries the small tag of favourite into qualifying tomorrow.  Mark Webber had an uneventful day despite take an unscheduled excursion into the turn four gravel trap this afternoon.  The Aussie wound up seventh overall and on this evidence, will do well to make it a hat-trick of pole positions at Barcelona.

Alonso set an early benchmark this morning before a more modest showing in FP2 (France24)

Having spent the first hour of practice sipping cappuccino and getting a baseline of where Ferrari might end up this weekend, a cautious Alonso went fastest this morning, only to slide to a more modest 14th in the afternoon session.  Alonso played down expectations in the press conference yesterday and with the quickest Ferrari in FP2 being Felipe Massa in 12th, he has a point.  Once again, these two will be amongst a furious scrap for getting into Q3 alongside the Williams and Toro Rosso cars.  One of those midfield teams, Sauber had Kamui Kobayashi up in third place this morning whilst Sergio Perez joined Webber with a gravel visit this afternoon at turn four.  This is the first race that Sauber are sporting their new marketing partnership with Champions League football finalists Chelsea.  The logo of the Stamford Bridge club appears evidently on Sauber’s nosecone.  Despite a shocking spelling error on his airbox, Nico Hulkenberg wound up tenth for Force India today, indicating that the young German seems more comfortable than Paul di Resta today.  Force India’s spelling might be questioned but the pace of the car seems to be more consistent.

Talking of consistent, Lotus look in great shape.  Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean set superb pace on long runs all day and should they qualify well, defintely have to be considered as a serious threat for the race victory, especially if their race pace in Bahrain is anything to go by.  However it was a miserable day for Narain Karthikeyan.  He sat out FP1 whilst HRT tried out development driver Daniel Cros and in FP2, an electrical problem through turn three meant the Indian driver was forced to stop on track without completing a single laptime of note.

Red Bull and Lotus have the slender advantage on race pace but McLaren’s qualifying pace has them in the boxseat for tomorrow at least and Mercedes GP shouldn’t be counted out.  Plus, there could be a Spanish special from the awesome Alonso.  It is quite possible that six, maybe even eight drivers have a realistic chance of starting on pole position for the race on Sunday and this means the Spanish Grand Prix is the perfect Sunday lunchtime starter before all that nail-biting last day drama in the Barclays Premier League.

 

Rosberg’s revival continues in shaky start to Sakhir weekend

Rosberg did his talking on the track today (Telegraph)

NICO Rosberg is on cloud nine following his maiden success in Shanghai last weekend and momentum is a key word in Formula One.  So the German picked up where he left off in Sakhir to end up quickest driver today in the opening two practice sessions for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

As the sport is forced to deal with a very unstable environment, Rosberg and Mercedes GP did their talking on the track.  His fastest time of 1.32.816 was nearly half a second quicker than Mark Webber in the afternoon session.  Consistent pace on a long race simulation towards the end of FP2 suggests that the team’s tyre wear issues don’t seem to be such a nightmare issue as it was in the first two races.

Red Bull have gone for a standard exahust configuration setup after different variations for both Webber and Sebastian Vettel.  The Australian was marginally faster today, although the 0.3secs difference at the end of the session flattered the closeness between the pair.  Vettel was second quickest this morning and third fastest in the afternoon.  Championship leaders McLaren have never won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but will still probably be marginal favourites going into tomorrow’s important qualifying session.  Lewis Hamilton was the pacesetter this morning and content to work on race setup this afternoon, ending fourth fastest.  Team-mate Jenson Button didn’t seem as settled with the balance of his car today, but was still amongst the top six in both sessions.

Once again, Ferrari lacked the ultimate pace as Fernando Alonso managed eighth and Felipe Massa twelfth in the afternoon session.  Sauber ran excellent race simulations and both Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi ended up in the top ten.

However off-track politics continued to be the dominant landscape today.  In midweek, clashes between Bahrani police and protesters over the running of the country almost led to a tragic incident involving the Force India team.  Four of their team mechanics had petrol bombs thrown at them and two of them have flown back to the UK.  With other team members expressing concern over their safety of leaving the circuit at dusk, the team elected to pull out of the second practice session on safety grounds.  Personnel from the Sauber team also were caught up in flare ups in the Manama region last night and it is reported that Mercedes GP have requested moving to a hotel closer to the circuit to be further away from the protest.

With Amnesty International and Labour leader Ed Miliband among those today who added their voices to the demand in calling the Grand Prix off, the king of F1 Bernie Ecclestone and the Crown Prince of Bahrain had to face some akward questions from a hungry worldwide media circus.  Both have said that the race will go ahead as scheduled on Sunday, although you get the sense that the racing will disappear into obsecurity all weekend.

Mercedes GP and McLaren look set to lead the way in qualifying tomorrow again, but the region’s issues might have more severe implications as the weekend progresses.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES  11 1.33.572 
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  21  1.33.877 
3 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.150 
4 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  23  1.34.249 
5 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  14  1.34.277 
6 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.344 
7 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  17  1.34.483 
8 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  22  1.34.552 
9 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  18  1.34.609 
10 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  20  1.34.817 
11 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  22  1.35.024 
12 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  25  1.35.268 
13 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  21  1.35.436 
14 VALTERI BOTTAS  WILLIAMS RENAULT  24  1.35.497 
15 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  19  1.35.719 
16 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  24  1.35.929 
17 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.195 
18 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 11  1.36.330 
19 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  18  1.36.484 
20 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.591 
21 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.37.467 
22 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.38.006 
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  19  1.38.877 
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  23  1.39.996 

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  35  1.32.816 
2 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  26  1.33.262 
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  28  1.33.525 
4 LEWIS HAMILTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  26  1.33.747 
5 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  32  1.33.862 
6 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  28  1.34.246 
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.411 
8 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  31  1.34.449 
9 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  32  1.34.615 
10 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.893 
11 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  29  1.34.895 
12 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  30  1.34.941 
13 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  33  1.35.183 
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  26  1.35.229 
15 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  38  1.35.459 
16 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  33  1.35.913 
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN  CATERHAM RENAULT  35  1.35.968 
18 BRUNO SENNA  WILLIAMS RENAULT  30  1.36.169 
19 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.36.587 
20 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.37.803 
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  28  1.37.812 
22 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  27  1.39.649 
23 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 
24 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 

Schumacher ends fastest in quiet Shanghai opening

MICHAEL Schumacher went quickest in the second practice session on a quiet opening day for track action in China.  The German followed up a second fastest slot in the first session which was led by Lewis Hamilton.  It was a day where racing on the Shanghai International Circuit was at a premium, as matters off the track dominated the headlines.  This was because the FIA released a statement in the early hours of the morning to confirm the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead as scheduled next week (see later story tonight for further details).

The first session was punctuated by mixed conditions, with smog and drizzle meaning there was a lack of clear indication in who looks the fastest pacesetters in China.  Only in the last ten minutes did meaningful times get set; Hamilton leading the way ahead of Nico Rosberg, Schumacher and the star of Malaysia, Sergio Perez.  Hamilton’s fastest lap was a full second quicker than anyone else but he does carry a grid penalty for changing a gearbox between Malaysia and this weekend.  McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh confirmed to BBC Radio 5 Live this morning that Lewis was using the cracked gearbox today and the change will happen overnight.  Test drivers Jules Bianchi, Valeri Bottas and Giedo Van der Garde got minor running in for their teams as Paul di Resta, Bruno Senna and Heikki Kovalainen sat out FP1 respectively.

Schumacher set the pace after a tepid start to the action this weekend (Eurosport)

A dry second session promoted more decisive running.  The cooler track conditions mean that it will be a gamble to guess how the Pirelli tyres will handle in what is likely to be a warmer race circuit come Sunday afternoon.  There was more action in FP2, as drivers attempted to make up for the lack of running in FP1.  di Resta spun on the pit straight and Timo Glock had a late off into the barriers at the first corner, minus his Marussia Cosworth’s nosecone.  A late effort from Schumacher was enough to deny Hamilton a clean sweep of the fastest times.  World champion Sebastian Vettel was an encouraging third and Mark Webber backed up a radical Red Bull improvement with fourth.  Championship leader Fernando Alonso had a quiet day and was a meagre tenth fastest in FP2, as Ferrari were brought back to reality after their shock Sepang success.  Lotus also had a bad day, Kimi Raikkonen propped up the timesheets in FP1 after technical problems intervened.

On a day when politics ruled the sport again, Mercedes and McLaren again looked fast out of the blocks but little has been given away ahead of qualifying tomorrow morning at 7am UK time.

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 7 1.37.106
2 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 14 1.38.116
3 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 14 1.38.316
4 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 13 1.38.584
5 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 12 1.38.911
6 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 15 1.38.977
7 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 12 1.39.198
8 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 6 1.39.199
9 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 16 1.39.748
10 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 14 1.39.768
11 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 14 1.40.056
12 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 14 1.40.153
13 VALTERI BOTTAS WILLIAMS RENAULT 8 1.40.298
14 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 13 1.40.328
15 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 12 1.40.540
16 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 14 1.41.071
17 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 14 1.41.204
18 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 14 1.42.330
19 GIEDO VAN DER GARDE CATERHAM RENAULT 11 1.42.521
20 JULES BIANCHI FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 8 1.44.118
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 10 1.44.227
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 15 1.44.500
23 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 12 1.47.264
24 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 11 1.50.465

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 32 1.35.973
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 29 1.36.145
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 27 1.36.160
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 24 1.36.433
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 31 1.36.617
6 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 28 1.36.711
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 28 1.36.956
8 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 31 1.36.966
9 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 31 1.37.191
10 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 32 1.37.316
11 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 22 1.37.417
12 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 33 1.37.616
13 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 30 1.37.836
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 32 1.37.930
15 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 26 1.37.972
16 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 35 1.38.176
17 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 31 1.38.293
18 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 37 1.38.783
19 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 36 1.38.990
20 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 20 1.39.346
21 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 15 1.39.651
22 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 25 1.40.343
23 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 30 1.40.753
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 26 1.41.125

Lewis sets the standard in Sepang Practice

Hamilton looks the man to beat on practice form in Sepang (FoxSports)

LEWIS Hamilton set the standard in practice for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.  The McLaren driver looked comfortable on the Sepang layout throughout the day and ending up topping the timesheets today in both sessions.  In the morning session, he lapped a full half a second faster than world champion Sebastian Vettel in very humid conditions.  A few hours later, Michael Schumacher was the Brit’s closest challenger, but still 0.4secs slower.  Although thunderstorms are forecasted for the rest of the weekend, Hamilton will start tomorrow’s qualifying session as an overwhelming favourite for pole position.

Having looked decidedly unhappy with his podium in Albert Park last Sunday, there were questions being raised about Hamilton’s attitude.  However, he came across as a happier individual in the paddock today and looks in formidable form.  Team-mate Jenson Button was playing down the pace of the car today, admitting to BBC Sport that this year’s regulations are making the circuit configuration harder for everyone. “It is always tricky around here.  Compared to last race, there is far less grip around here.  It’s working ok, but compared to last year, the new regulations make it far more difficult around here.”

Mercedes GP were McLaren’s closest rivals today, with Schumacher and Nico Rosberg featuring prominently in the top four in both sessions.  Vettel, who expressed that the balance was not perfect over the team radio in the second session wound up a slightly frustrated tenth.  He is normally cool, but even the young German seemed to be feeling the heat of Kuala Lumpur after his struggles this afternoon.

There was plenty of drivers who made use of the wide asphalt areas, although only Narain Karthikeyan stopped out on track today and that was after only eight laps in the first session thanks to a hydraulic glitch on the struggling HRT.  The one driver who suffered the most was Paul di Resta, who went off the road twice.  His first execursion was caused by a brake duct issue, which punctured one of his front tyres.  The second mistake was down to driver error, although the Scot did keep the car out of the barriers.

Ferrari have brought a new chassis to this event for Felipe Massa, although the Brazilian made no impact on the times.  Team-mate Fernando Alonso experimented with a new front wing in second practice and finished a solid sixth, after finishing up behind Massa in session one.  There was a new driver in the car today, as GP3 champion Valterri Bottas took over from Bruno Senna this morning for Williams.  The youngster accredited himself well, outpacing Pastor Maldonado before handing back driving duties to Senna this afternoon.

There was a blow for Kimi Raikkonen, when his gearbox which had been damaged by some off-roading in Australia overheated in the sweltering conditions.  He will lose five grid positions for the race by getting a new gearbox.  Raikkonen told Sky Sports F1; “It was a frustrating day.  We struggled to get a good set-up and it felt quite slippery.  Hopefully it will be better tomorrow.”  Fellow Finn Heikki Kovalainen will get a five place drop too following a Safety Car infringement in Melbourne.

Raikkonen also mentioned about high levels of tyre degradation and the boss of Pirelli, Paul Hembrey has admitted that three stops are likely for most drivers on raceday.  So, Mercedes GP look like a contender for top grid positions, Red Bull have work to do and McLaren certainly seem to be the leading force again.  Weather permitting, Hamilton has to be confident for his chances tomorrow.

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 19 1.38.021
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 21 1.38.535
3 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 21 1.38.813
4 MICHAEL SCUMACHER MERCEDES GP 19 1.38.826
5 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 17 1.38.919
6 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 20 1.39.092
7 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 22 1.39.128
8 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 23 1.39.298
9 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 15 1.39.323
10 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 19 1.39.440
11 VALTERRI BOTTAS WILLIAMS RENAULT 23 1.39.724
12 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 23 1.39.783
13 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 16 1.39.896
14 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 21 1.39.910
15 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 23 1.39.980
16 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 23 1.40.099
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 19 1.40.247
18 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 23 1.40.469
19 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 25 1.40.857
20 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 23 1.41.085
21 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 18 1.43.170
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 14 1.44.580
23 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 8 1.45.360
24 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 18 1.45.528

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 28 1.38.172
2 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 34 1.38.533
3 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 30 1.38.535
4 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 34 1.38.696
5 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 33 1.38.853
6 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 27 1.38.891
7 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 29 1.39.133
8 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 33 1.39.297
9 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 22 1.39.311
10 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 25 1.39.402
11 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 35 1.39.444
12 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 26 1.39.464
13 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 20 1.39.625
14 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 16 1.39.687
15 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 29 1.39.696
16 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 28 1.40.271
17 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 34 1.40.678
18 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 33 1.40.947
19 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 25 1.41.464
20 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 20 1.41.681
21 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 18 1.42.594
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 24 1.42.874
23 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 18 1.43.658
24 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 22 1.43.823

Button and Schumacher lead the way on frustrating opening day

AT 1.30am this morning UK time, Formula One roared back into life with the first practice session for the 2012 Australian Grand Prix.  However, not much was given away thanks to the force of Mother Nature.  Intermittent showers made the day difficult to judge, but both McLaren Mercedes and Mercedes GP will have plenty of reasons to be encouraged.

Schumacher kicks up the spray on his way to the fastest time in FP2

Jenson Button led Lewis Hamilton to a McLaren 1-2 in the first practice session.  A late lap from Michael Schumacher was enough to end quickest in the second session.  Button drew first blood in session one with a fastest time of 1.27.560, which pipped Schumacher to top spot.  Moments later, Hamilton who has Lenny Kravitz and Nicole Scherzinger in Melbourne for support, went 0.2secs slower than his team-mate.  However, McLaren set the standard and left an early mark on the field.  An interesting Mercedes GP concept with their rear wing has raised some protest in the paddock, although the FIA scrutineers have declared it legal.  Schumacher played down his pace today, but they certainly look far more competitive than they did at the start of 2011.

The chasing pack in the first session was led by Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, followed by Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg.  Alonso was maximising everything out of his car, as he nearly smashed his machinery into the wall at the last corner right at the end of the session.  There were problems for returning champion Kimi Raikkonen, who was restricted to just eight laps in the first session, thanks to a power steering problem.  Raikkonen still wound up ninth fastest though.

Felipe Massa’s season began badly when the Brazilian decided to experiment with putting his rear wheels on the grass at turn nine.  The result was a beached Ferrari and precious track time lost for the under pressure driver.  The only other driver to notably visit a gravel trap was Sergio Perez, caught out by a damp track early on in FP2.  A downpour before the second session meant there was little chance of running until the last 15 minutes for any useful data.  It looked like Nico Hulkenberg would end up fastest in the afternoon session for Force India, until a last lap from Schumacher left him as top dog, although with a slower time than the morning session.  It was a messy day by Sebastian Vettel’s high standards with the world champion failing to trouble the leading times but Red Bull seemed to be taking the cautious approach and will surely have something in reserve for the remainder of the weekend.  This was later confirmed by team boss Christian Horner, who revealed to Sky Sports that the team had not yet ran on light fuel.

It was a nightmare day for Hispania on their first day of any running in 2012.  Narain Karthikeyan grounded to a halt after only three laps in the morning with a mechanical problem.  Pedro de la Rosa could only do one lap, due to a lack of spare parts.  With their fastest time being a full 13 seconds off the pace, don’t be surprised to see the 107 per cent ruling claim the Spanish team as a casualty in Albert ParK for the second year running.

In summary, it was difficult to read a lot into today’s running due to the inclement weather.  The forecast for the remainder of the weekend seems to be indicating at a dry qualifying session and sunny raceday.  McLaren and Mercedes will be the happiest, whilst Ferrari looked a bit better than testing form suggested and Force India confirmed their place as the leaders in the midfield pack.  Only after qualifying tomorrow will F1 2012 begin to have a tentative pecking order.

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES                                                                                                                                                                  

1. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.27.560 – 11 laps

2. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.27.805 – 14 laps

3. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.28.235 – 17 laps

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.28.360 – 21 laps

5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.28.467 – 21 laps

6. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.28.683 – 22 laps

7. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.28.908 – 23 laps

8. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.29.415 – 16 laps

9. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.29.565 – 8 laps

10. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.29.722 – 26 laps

11. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.29.790 – 21 laps

12. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.29.865 – 17 laps

13. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.29.881 – 18 laps

14. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.29.953 – 21 laps

15. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.30.124 – 22 laps

16. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.30.515 – 16 laps

17. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.30.586 – 16 laps

18. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.30.743 – 11 laps

19. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.31.178 – 17 laps

20. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.31.983 – 8 laps

21. Timo Glock (Marussia Cosworth) 1.34.730 – 8 laps

22. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.40.256 – 11 laps

BOTH NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN AND PEDRO DE LA ROSA (HISPANIA COSWORTH) SET NO TIME IN FP1 

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES 

1. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.29.183 – 16 laps

2. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.29.292 – 19 laps

3. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.30.199 – 22 laps

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.30.341 – 13 laps

5. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.30.709 – 14 laps

6. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.31.466 – 13 laps

7. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.31.505 – 14 laps

8. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.31.932 – 16 laps

9. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.32.184 – 17 laps

10. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.32.194 – 19 laps

11. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.32.296 – 20 laps

12. Timo Glock (Marussia Cosworth) 1.32.632 – 17 laps

13. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.32.767 – 15 laps

14. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.32.832 – 11 laps

15. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.33.039 – 18 laps

16. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.33.259 – 11 laps

17. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.34.108 – 21 laps

18. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.34.275 – 7 laps

19. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.34.312 – 17 laps

20. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.34.485 – 29 laps

21. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.34.604 – 31 laps

22. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.34.770 – 13 laps

23. Narain Karthikeyan (HRT Cosworth) 1.42.627 – 16 laps

NO TIME FROM PEDRO DE LA ROSA (HRT Cosworth)