Nico Rosberg led the way at the first practice session of the 2016 Malaysian GP ahead of team mate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg clocked a time of 1:35.227 on the revamped Sepang circuit using the soft compound tyres, beating the world champion by half a second.
Hamilton’s lack of pace, however, was down to a mistake he made on his soft-tyre run. He locked up into turn 9 which forced him into the pits, meaning his best lap time came on the medium tyre, while Rosberg was able to get a clean lap, which allowed him to clear Hamilton by half a second.
Both drivers switched to the medium rubber for the rest of the session, allowing Hamilton to cut the deficit back to 0.494 of a second from Rosberg, who went wide at Turn 11 towards the end of the session.
After appearing close in Singapore, it was business as usual for the rest of the field as Mercedes returned to their usual gap from their rivals. Ferrari was closest, albeit a second off Rosberg’s pace with Kimi leading Vettel in third and fourth.
Fernando Alonso’s decision to change to the upgraded Honda power unit, which incurred him a 30-place grid penalty seems wise as he ended the session fifth fastest, ahead of the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo in sixth and Max Verstappen in seventh.
Alonso’s team mate was not far behind in tenth, still in the top ten. Between them were the two Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg eighth and Sergio Perez ninth, Perez becoming the latest driver to try out the Halo in this session.
Daniil Kvyat seemed more at home with his Toro Rosso as he finished the session 11th fastest, his team mate Carlos Sainz four places behind in 15th, two-tenths down on Kvyat. The Spaniard not looking at ease with his machinery which he took for an excursion through the gravel at Turn 11.
Valtteri Bottas was 12th fastest for Williams while his veteran team mate could only manage a very lowly 18th. Between them were the Haas drivers in 13th for Grosjean and 14th for Gutierrez.
Sauber finished the session 16th and 17th ahead of Massa and Palmer who was the sole Renault running for most of the session after the sister Renault of Kevin Magnussen strangely caught fire early in the session.
The Dane was returning to the pits from an installation lap when the back of his car caught fire. It later turned out the engine cover was leaking fuel as his mechanics fitted the fuel tank with a tube to drain it. They were finally able to correct the situation but he was unable to set a lap time.
The Manors rounded up the order with Esteban Ocon leading Pascal Wehrlein by six-tenths. The German had been complaining throughout the session from balance issues.
The second practice session starts at 14:00 local time (GMT +8)
Image via Mercedes AMG F1 Petronas