Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany leaves the pit during the second practice session ahead of the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang on March 28, 2014. – AFP Photo
SEPANG: Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg continued his strong start to the 2014 season by going fastest at the end of the two free practice sessions of the Petronas Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix here.
Rosberg, who won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne two weeks ago, posted 1:39.909 under the sizzling afternoon sun to complete a Mercedes clean sweep of the practice sessions.
His British team-mate Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the first practice in the morning with 1:40.691.
Rosberg was among the first of the frontrunners to switch to the faster medium-compound tyre and the German knocked Felipe Massa’s Williams off the top spot halfway into the one-hour session.
Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen clocked 1:39.944 and was only 0.035s slower than Rosberg as he went second fastest for Ferrari.
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel posted the third fastest time of 1:39.970 in his Red Bull car to suggest that it would be folly for his rivals to write off his chances at Sepang on Sunday.
Rosberg will be delighted with a good opening act at a venue that he considers a happy hunting ground.
It was here in 2010 that he chalked his first podium finish in his Formula One career as well as the first for Mercedes.
“It was crazy conditions out there. It’s a huge challenge to get everything right under such warm temperatures.
“The cars are on the edge and the tyre degradation was higher than expected today.
“We are sliding a bit more this year perhaps because of the reduced downforce levels,” said Rosberg, who was quick to point out that it’s still early days.
“We are still having some small issues and therefore we were not able to maximise everything today.
“The quickest teams seem to be closer together than in Australia so we still have work to do overnight to improve our level of performance,” he added.
Hamilton, who ended the second practice fourth fastest with 1:40.051, was pleased with how the day turned out.
“There are areas where we can improve so we’re keeping focused on our own work, rather than being distracted by what the others are doing.
“It was pretty tough with the temperature and humidity and it’s so important to keep hydrated here.
“It’s also one of the trickiest races of the year so we just have to make sure we tick all the boxes and that it all comes together for us.”
The second session was also marked by several spectacular moments as drivers struggled for rear-end grip.
Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne suffered a spin at the final corner and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg locked up and ran through the gravel. Nonetheless, Hulkenberg managed to set a time good enough to beat the Frenchman into the top 10 with 1:40.691.
Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado did not run at all due to what is believed to be a turbo problem that developed in the morning practice session.
Caterham driver Kamui Kobayashi was also unable to run because of an energy store problem that cropped up during the morning practice although team-mate Marcus Ericsson was able to complete a full programme.