Lewis Hamilton arrives in Malaysia with a 28-point lead and that’s probably the last thing he was expecting before that unexpected win in Singapore. That makes it three straight wins and he bids for a fourth this weekend.
It was another drive in the wet for first practice with the session delayed for thirty minutes due to heavy rain. When the cars finally got on the track it was another Red Bull 1-2. Max Verstappen finished 0.757 seconds ahead of his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and it was Fernando Alonso in his McLaren who filled the third spot. The Ferrari’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were fourth and fifth with championship leader Lewis Hamilton back in sixth and team-mate Valtteri Bottas in seventh.
Further down the field, there were some good results for some unfamiliar names. Pierre Gasly has taken over from Daniil Kyvatt and the Toro Rosso driver was ninth fastest. Charles Leclerc – nothing to do with ‘Allo Allo’ – leads Formula 2 but is driving for Sauber instead of Pascal Wehrlein and ended in 16th.
A disappointing day for Lewis Hamilton continued as he again finished sixth. This time it was Ferrari who had a 1-2 with Vettel 0.604 seconds ahead of Raikkonen. They finished ahead of the two Red Bulls with Ricciardo getting the better of Verstappen this time. A good day for McLaren continued with Alonso in fifth but Lewis Hamilton was sixth and 1.416 seconds behind Vettel. Just as in the first practice session, Valtteri Bottas was seventh.
During second practice Hamilton had problems at Turn Seven and slid off the track. Just why the Mercedes were struggling on Friday hasn’t been confirmed but both drivers did say they had a lack of grip. “Difficult day with the car. Definitely unusual, unexpected and we are a long way off,” said Hamilton after the second practice session. The fact that Daniel Ricciardo says he could see fuel coming out of the Mercedes fuel tank is another thing to worry about but he wasn’t sure if they weren’t “playing some games.”
The fact that Hamilton’s Mercedes was struggling regardless of how much fuel it was carrying doesn’t bode well for the weekend. Bottas wasn’t having a great time either and was 0.7 seconds slower than Vettel on their race-simulation runs.
Hamilton certainly wasn’t having a great day because he didn’t get the chance to get more time on the track with high fuel loads in his Mercedes. That’s because the session had to be cut short due to RomaIn Grosjean crashing his Haas at Turn 13 and it seems a loose drain cover was to blame and that had been loosened by Bottas and made worse by Raikkonen so Grosean was certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully he wasn’t injured which is great to report.
An interesting day then and not a good one for Mercedes who were optimistic for this weekend. I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.