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