- Malaysian Grand Prix - Free Practice Two
Hamilton holds on to top spot in Sepang
McLaren gradually closing on top two - Hamilton
Driver reaction after Friday practice
Hamilton fastest in heat of Sepang
- Malaysian Grand Prix
- FIA Formula One World Championship
Lewis Hamilton set the pace during the second practice session in Malaysia, as Red Bull and Ferrari kept their cards close to their chests ahead of Saturday's final practice and qualifying.
In sweltering conditions, Hamilton looked comfortable in the McLaren and made the most a fresh set of soft tyres to put together a quick lap that was most probably aided by a low fuel load. He was 0.266 up on this weekend's favourite Sebastian Vettel, but will be keeping his excitement in check as at the past two races the Red Bull has found significant gains in qualifying.
However, once again there are serious concerns over the Red Bull's reliability, after Vettel complained of a lack of power in the first session and power steering problems in the second. Most worrying was team-mate Mark Webber's retirement from the afternoon's running when he parked the car in the gravel with what sounded like an engine problem.
Nico Rosberg was third fastest, just 0.002 shy of Vettel's time. The Mercedes were Hamilton's main competitors for much of the session with Michael Schumacher fifth fastest behind Jenson Button in fourth. Through the first and second sectors of the lap the two cars were evenly matched, but the McLaren has a distinct speed advantage down the long straight in sector three, which can be attributed to its F-duct.
The Ferraris were way off the pace as they concentrated on race preparation. Both cars completed lengthily runs on the softer compound tyres, with Fernando Alonso's best time 1.4 seconds off Hamilton. Massa was a further second adrift and was visibly struggling with the balance of the car through high-speed corners. Both will be further up the field in Saturday's sessions but there may be concerns over rear-tyre wear in the race.
Robert Kubica again filled the role as best of the rest, and with the sixth-fastest time, might fancy his chances of breaking into the top eight in qualifying. The rest of the midfield is more muddled with a strong performance from Sebastien Buemi and the Saubers. Again, fuel levels have likely masked the pace of some cars and we will have to wait for Saturday for a clearer picture to emerge.
There were promising signs towards the back of the grid, as HRT had a trouble-free session and notched up 59 laps between both cars. However, Chandhok's best time was still seven seconds off the pace, while Senna was a further four tenths off. Trulli looks set to be the best of the backmarkers this weekend and at one stage caused excitement in the garage by lapping faster than the heavily-fuelled Ferraris.
Towards the end of the second session track temperatures were at manageable 42C, having peaked at 52C, and are likely to be at a similar level during the start of the race. While there was only a sprinkling of rain between sessions, both qualifying and the race are scheduled later in the day and could be affected by a late afternoon thunderstorm.