SEPANG, Malaysia – Though Nico Rosberg has had the Formula One field by the throat over the last three race weekends, it was his teammate Lewis Hamilton who flipped the script during Friday practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang Int’l Circuit.
Hamilton topped the second session with the fastest overall time on the day, a lap of 1:34.944 that bettered Rosberg’s best time by nearly a quarter-second.
The three-time and defending world champion was unbothered by Rosberg’s pace after the latter led the opening practice, coming out in round two and gliding to the only 1:34 lap of the day and proving he will be a force on race day as he seeks his second Sepang victory.
“That was a good day today. No issues to report and we got through our run plans in both sessions,” said Hamilton. “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. Overall a good building block for tomorrow and the rest of the weekend.”
“A big shout-out to the fans out here today. I saw them waving across in the stands at the end of FP2 and they’ve all got banners and caps showing their support, which is great to see.”
Rosberg had consistency between the two sessions, picking up just a half-tenth between FP1 and FP2, but his best lap of 1:35.177 was not quite enough to dethrone his teammate on top of the speed charts.
Nevertheless, the points leader was happy with his day and is optimistic about his chances for locking down a fourth-consecutive victory, following triumphs in Belgium, Italy and Singapore.
“The new track surface is really enjoyable to drive,” Rosberg said. “It’s challenging, but [it has] good grip. It’s tough to get the setup right with such an unknown element as [a] new tarmac, but we’re on the right track. Turn 15 is interesting, as you can now try several different lines if you’re attacking the guy in front, so that will be good for overtaking.”
“(As far as long runs go), even the soft tire held on pretty well out there, so we don’t expect any big surprises. Strategy-wise we have to run the hard compound, of course, but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward.”
The Ferrari pair trailed the two Silver Arrows, with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel () leading teammate Kimi Raikkonen as the pair slotted in third and fourth, respectively.
Max Verstappen rounded out the top five for Red Bull ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, the sister Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, Perez’s teammate Nico Hulkenberg and Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button — who is making his 300th grand prix start on Sunday.
The only incident of note during Friday’s drills came in the opening session, when a scary fire broke out on Kevin Magnussen’s Renault following his first installation lap in the session.
Magnussen was returning to the garage when the fire broke out, with flames spewing from the engine cover as he quickly jumped out of the machine. It took team members and safety officials nearly 10 minutes to extinguish the blaze.
The Dane was able to return to the track in FP2 after the team repaired his entry, clocking in 19th overall and completing 19 laps.
Qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix will air Saturday morning at 5 a.m. ET, live on NBCSN.