Mark Webber has set about what he hopes will be a recovery weekend at the Malaysian Grand Prix by taking his Red Bull comfortably to the top of the timesheets in the opening Friday practice session.

Mark WebberThe result effectively mirrored what the Australian had managed to achieve in the first session on home turf two weeks ago, but he’ll be hoping he can avoid a repeat of Albert Park where he progressively fell off the pace as the weekend wore on.

At least this time, his margin to the rest of the field was much more assured, posting a fastest lap over 1.6 seconds quicker than what Lewis Hamilton manages in his McLaren. Michael Schumacher took his Mercedes GP third-fastest, further half-second behind.

It was a typically humid morning at Sepang – figures of up to 84% humidity were recorded during the 90-minute session – and drivers and pit crew sweltered in ambient temperatures of 29°C, which climbed steadily as the morning wore on.

Narain Karthikeyan's engine lets go Hispania Racing looked set to try and rack up some decent mileage with the team now fielding two fully-2011-spec F111s for Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan. The team was among the first to leave the pit lane when the session opened – no doubt eager to run their new front wing and DRS for the first time – but Karthikeyan pulled off on his opening lap with a smoky Cosworth engine failure.

Renault was another team not to enjoy a productive morning session, with both Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov suffering unusual problems in the front wheel assembly area of their R31 challengers.

Shortly after posting the fastest lap of the session to-date, Heidfeld’s right front wheel locked up and remained jammed in the same position, forcing the German to endure a very slow return trip to the pits.

Something let go in a big way on Petrov's left-front wheel Vitaly Petrov walks away from his Renault

At around the same time, something in Vitaly Petrov’s left front wheel seemingly exploded as the Russian braked for Turn 9, causing his left front tyre to blow out and pitch the Russian into the gravel trap. It was certainly a scary accident when viewed from onboard.

A scary moment for D'Ambrosio when his front suspension fails And yet another frightening incident occurred during the session, when Jérôme d’Ambrosio’s front suspension failed as he braked for the final corner while overtaking Liuzzi. The Belgian had his own high-speed slide into the kitty litter, while Liuzzi was lucky not to get caught up in the rookie’s accident.

As the session wound down with thankfully no more major incidents, no one could hold a candle to Webber, while it was only a late effort from Schumacher that saw him finish third fastest.

In his sole outing for the team this weekend, Nico Hülkenberg was an impressive fourth-fastest in his Force India, while Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa were fifth- and sixth-fastest respectively, separated by just 0.01 seconds at the end of the session.

Despite his front wheel issues, Heidfeld was seventh-fastest ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg. Jenson Button was a lowly 15th-fastest in his McLaren, while Sebastian Vettel could only manage 17th-fastest.

 

2011 Malaysian Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:

  Driver   Team Time Laps
1. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Renault RB7 1:37.651 22
2. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 1.665 16
3. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 2.140 29
4. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 2.726 23
5. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.792 31
6. Felipe Massa BRZ Ferrari F150° Italia + 2.802 22
7. Nick Heidfeld DEU Renault R31 + 2.874 6
8. Rubens Barrichello BRZ Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.930 21
9. Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari F150° Italia + 2.950 23
10. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 2.995 29
11. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 3.083 21
12. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 3.097 23
13. Jaime Alguersuari ESP Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 3.119 24
14. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C30 + 3.221 27
15. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 3.276 16
16. Jarno Trulli ITA Lotus Renault T128 + 3.969 21
17. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Renault RB7 + 3.976 18
18. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C30 + 3.991 24
19. Timo Glock DEU Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 4.503 18
20. Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 4.889 20
21. Davide Valsecchi ITA Lotus Renault T128 + 6.403 18
22. Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 7.577 20
23. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRT F1 Cosworth F111 + 8.616 10
24. Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault R31 + 10.281 4

[Images via Formula1.com, GP Update, LAT and Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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