Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Webber dominates both Malaysian practice rounds

BY A NOSE:The top four racers were separated by just a quarter of a second. Qualifying today and tomorrow’s race are likely to be dogged by tire-wear and heavy rain


German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing eases around a curve yesterday during the second practice session at Sepang International circuit outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Photo: EPA

Red Bull’s Mark Webber went quickest in both Malaysian Grand Prix practice sessions yesterday in a dominant display that raised hopes he can erase a disappointing start to the season.

Webber, fifth two weeks ago in Melbourne, Australia, bested McLaren’s Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, while his teammate and last year’s champion Sebastien Vettel focused on testing Red Bull’s misfiring Kinetic Energy Regeneration System (KERS).

Britons Button and Hamilton were second and third quickest on the day, ahead of Vettel — who improved on 17th in the morning session — and his much--decorated German compatriot Michael Schumacher in a Mercedes.

The top four were separated by just a quarter of a second, suggesting McLaren have emerged as the main rivals to last year’s top team at this early stage of the season.

Vettel spent much of the day checking Red Bull’s KERS speed boost, which went unused during his Melbourne win, but which is expected to be vital on the long straights of the Sepang circuit, near Kuala Lumpur.

“Obviously there’s not much in it,” Webber said. “We’re all pretty close, give or take a couple of tenths [of a second]: Who got traffic, who didn’t, how their KERS worked. So far, so good. I’m toward the front somewhere.”

“It’s still early in the weekend. We got some good dry running in, and the car performed well. Obviously it was reliable, which was a nice bonus, so we got to check all the ties and also Pirelli’s new tire that they brought here,” he said.

Brazilian Felipe Massa was sixth quickest for Ferrari ahead of two more Germans, Nico Rosberg for Mercedes and Nick Heidfeld of Renault, who recovered after a dreadful morning session plagued by mechanical problems.

Both Heidfeld and his Russian teammate Vitaly Petrov were forced out of the action as Renault brought their cars in for intense inspections of their braking and suspension systems.

Ferrari’s two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was back in ninth place ahead of fellow Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari of Toro Rosso.

“I am not expecting miracles — it is going to be very difficult for us here,” said Alonso, who finished fourth in Melbourne.

Webber’s fastest lap was 1 minute, 36.876 seconds around Sepang, where tire-wear and possible heavy rainstorms are likely to be major factors in today’s qualifying and tomorrow’s race.

Seven-time champion Schumacher, 42, showed on Thursday evening that he was not worried by the rain by lapping the circuit during a storm — on a pair of roller skates.

At the back end of the field, the struggling Hispania team picked up some momentum after failing to qualify for the Australian Grand Prix.

Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan climbed to 18th before slipping back to 21st fastest, while teammate Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi was one place further back.

The afternoon session was punctuated by a crash involving Venezuelan rookie Pastor Maldonado, who slid off across the grass at the pit entry road and went into the barriers in his Williams.

These incidents were then followed by the sight of Virgin’s rookie Jerome d’Ambrosio of Belgium suffering a suspension failure at the final corner. It was a major spectacle as his system appeared to explode, but he escaped unhurt.

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