Hamil­ton tops hot and fiery prac­tice in Malaysia

Malta Independent - - SPORT / CLASSIFIEDS -

Lewis Hamil­ton fired the lat­est shot in the close For­mula One ti­tle fight against Nico Ros­berg by edg­ing his Mercedes team­mate and set­ting the fastest time in yes­ter­day’s prac­tice for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Ros­berg had bet­tered Hamil­ton in ev­ery on-track ses­sion in the pre­vi­ous race in Sin­ga­pore en route to a third suc­ces­sive win that saw him re­claim the lead in the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship, but Hamil­ton re­sponded in the steamy con­di­tions at the Sep­ang In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit.

His best lap time of 1 minute, 34.944 sec­onds was al­most a quar­ter of a sec­ond bet­ter than that of Ros­berg as tem­per­a­tures on the resur­faced track climbed past 58 de­grees.

It was briefly much hot­ter than that in pit lane, where a fire en­gulfed the Re­nault of Kevin Mag­nussen, caus­ing the first prac­tice ses­sion to be red-flagged.

A fuel leak, which could not be stopped for sev­eral min­utes, saw the fire re­peat­edly re-ig­nite de­spite the ef­forts of team me­chan­ics and track mar­shalls, who doused the car in huge vol­umes of ex­tin­guisher foam.

Mag­nussen sprang from the car when the flames be­gan to lick at the cock­pit, and was un­hurt.

Hamil­ton said it was “a good day to­day, no is­sues to re­port.”

“There’s a lot of data to an­a­lyse tonight to make sure we have a good un­der­stand­ing of the tires and of our po­si­tion rel­a­tive to the oth­ers,” Hamil­ton said. “Over­all a good build­ing block for to­mor­row and the rest of the week­end.”

Most driv­ers were en­thu­si­as­tic about the resur­faced track, which has made the cir­cuit sev­eral sec­onds faster than last year. A fea­ture is the re­mod­eled fi­nal turn; the main over­tak­ing spot on the cir­cuit. It now has a neg­a­tive cam­ber, drop­ping lower at the out­side, which will en­able a va­ri­ety of pass­ing meth­ods.

It also meant there was very lit­tle tire degra­da­tion, mak­ing two pit stops rather than three the likely op­ti­mal strat­egy.

“The new track sur­face is re­ally en­joy­able to drive,” Ros­berg said. “Chal­leng­ing, but with good grip.”

Fer­rari driv­ers Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Kimi Raikko­nen were third and fourth fastest, both within a sec­ond of Hamil­ton’s time, while Red Bull’s Max Ver­stap­pen was fifth and Force In­dia’s Ser­gio Perez sixth.

The fastest laps of Hamil­ton and Ros­berg in­di­cated that Saturday’s qualifying ses­sion will again likely be a shootout be­tween the two Mercedes driv­ers. How­ever Fer­rari and Red Bull were both en­thu­si­as­tic about their per­for­mance on their long runs, which sim­u­late race pace with heav­ier fuel loads and long stints on the same tires.

Vet­tel, who won this race last year in sim­i­larly hot con­di­tions, felt the high track tem­per­a­tures help Fer­rari rel­a­tive to Mercedes.

“His­tor­i­cally we seemed to do well when it’s warm and to­day was quite warm,” Vet­tel said. “Our pace wasn’t too bad from what I was told. If that’s the name of the game, that the hot con­di­tions suit us, then it might be a good thing.”

Ver­stap­pen, on his 19th birth­day, ac­knowl­edged that Red Bull was off the pace in qualifying trim, but ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing Mercedes in race con­di­tions.

“I felt there was quite some lap time in the soft,” Ver­stap­pen said. “But I was most happy in the long run, it felt like I could do what I wanted with the car, I could throw it into the cor­ner like I wanted to and still the pace was there.”

McLaren driver Fer­nando Alonso was sev­enth on the timesheets, but will start from the back of the grid on Sun­day due to penal­ties for in­stalling a newly de­vel­oped power unit, which he used on Friday.

Photo: AP

Lewis Hamil­ton

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