2011 Malaysian GP – Friday Practice 1 Results

Mark Webber emerged the fastest driver around Sepang in the first practice session on Friday, just as he had done in Australia two weeks ago,  except that this time, his margin was a whopping 1.665 seconds over second placed Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren. And Webber’s championship leading team mate? Sebastian Vettel was 17th, behind Jarno Trulli’s Lotus. Hulkenberg and Maldonado were in the top five, and Vitaly Petrov was dead last in his Renault. While that might force you to think these times are meaningless, rivals will take Webber’s laptime very seriously indeed.

Michael Schumacher demonstrated strong pace with his Mercedes and was one of only three drivers to dip below the 1:40s. Ferrari were 6th and 10th, preferring to focus on aerodynamic updates, while Jenson Button was only 15th fastest. Vettel seemed to be focusing on RBR’s new KERS package, which will be crucial in determining the outcome of Sunday’s race. The session resembled a pre-2005 qualifying run, with as many as 12 cars – from positions 4th to 15th – were covered by just 6 tenths of a second. It was also an eventful session, as both Renaults and d’Ambrosio’s Virgin experienced dramatic front suspension/brake failures. Luckily, none of the incidents turned into major crashes.HRT managed to put in some decent laps, and apart from Karthikeyan’s engine failure, the car seemed capable of coming just under the 107% rule.

Although Sebastian Vettel could’ve gone for a low-fuel banzai run at the end, the Virgin’s crash meant that he lost the opportunity to do so. As usual, the first practice results show us nothing much in the way of relative pace of the cars – but only that the RB7 will once again be the car to beat, in all probability. And more than the performance of the cars, it is the strategic nous of the teams and the adaptability of the drivers that will come to the fore this weekend, when – not if – the rain arrives.

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