Hamilton helpless as Ferrari pair set pace
Lewis Hamilton bemoaned a very difficult start to his Malaysian Grand Prix weekend as title rival Sebastian Vettel set the pace at Sepang yesterday.
Vettel clocked a lap record to go quickest in second practice with his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen second.
Meanwhile, Mercedes endured what their head of motor sport Toto Wolff labelled “one of the worst Friday’s I can remember” as Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas struggled.
Both span in the afternoon session as they were restricted in their running time due to a number of outside factors.
First practice was delayed due to a heavy downpour and there was no running for the first 30 minutes. The second session was curtailed by more than 20 minutes as a red flag ended running after the Haas of Romain Grosjean had a big accident as it suffered a major puncture from hitting an uncovered drain.
Vettel is now 28 points behind Hamilton in the fight for the title after the Briton came here on the back of a hat-trick of wins, but the German shone yesterday.
He was almost 1.5sec quicker than Hamilton, who was down in sixth, leaving the championship leader hopeful of improvements on Saturday.
“It’s been a very difficult day,” said Hamilton.
“I’ve been struggling with the car today, so we have to review and try to understand where we have gone wrong with the balance.
“We’re hoping that we’re able to find our bearings overnight and regroup for tomorrow.”
Wolff, meanwhile, insisted the uncompetitiveness of Mercedes was real and not that they were saving their true pace for today.
“The lap time is reality,” he said. “The stopwatch always tells the truth. The lap time showed we are not quick enough.
“The car seems to be unbalanced and that triggers consequences. It is one of the worst Friday’s I can remember.”
Grosjean crashed out when his Haas hit a drain on turn 13 which had seemingly had its cover ripped off moments earlier as Hamilton passed over.
The Frenchman suffered a massive puncture as his rear-right tyre bumped over the uncovered drain and saw him hit the wall at high speed.
He was able to walk away from the car and confirm he had not been seriously hurt.
Race director Charlie Whiting revealed he and his team faced a long day to get the circuit into a safe state ahead of free practice three on Saturday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, one drain grate has come up. It is an inspection hatch, a drain that runs all along the curb,” he explained.
“One has come up, they are normally bolted and welded but it seems it has just come away.
“For the rest of the day we will concentrate on getting the four kerbs welded back down again . . . they have probably become a bit fatigued. We have to get it fixed for tomorrow, of course.” Arsenal are expected to revert to a fullstrength team for tomorrow’s visit of Brighton in the English Premier League.
Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka, Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac, Hector Bellerin, Petr Cech and Nacho Monreal were all rested for Thursday’s Europa League fixture at BATE Borisov.
They are all likely to be recalled, particularly with Calum Chambers, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla all still absent through injury. Dean Elgar was out one run short of a double century as South Africa strengthened their grip on the first cricket Test against Bangladesh in Potchefstroom yesterday.
Ottis Gibson had enjoyed a dream start to life as Proteas coach on Thursday, as openers Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram shared a first-wicket partnership of 196 before closing on 298 for one after the Tigers won the toss and elected to field.
South Africa eventually declared on 496 for three, then reducing Bangladesh to 127 for three still 369 adrift and 170 shy of avoiding the follow-on. Worcestershire have re-signed Australian seamer Steve Magoffin from Sussex. The Pears will play topflight cricket next season after winning the English county championship Division 2 title and they will do so with 37-year-old Magoffin back in their attack.
Northamptonshire have signed seam bowler Brett Hutton from Nottinghamshire.