Sepang, 22 March – The hordes of Malaysians who commute by scooter every day have an interesting method of keeping dry; they wear their waterproof jackets with the zips at the back to fend off the driving rain. At the Sepang circuit this afternoon in FP2, the F1 drivers simply chose to drive back into the pits and fit intermediate tyres, as the traditional afternoon storm, not a heavy one today, hit the track. It meant that on the very first day of practice, the Scuderia Ferrari drivers managed to try both the dry weather Pirellis and the Intermediates, so a useful exercise after all. In total, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso completed 84 laps, 48 for the Brazilian and 36 for the Spaniard, ending the day third and fourth fastest respectively.
If the weather was predictably unpredictable, equally certain was the fact that tyre degradation was going to be a factor this weekend, thanks to the track having an abrasive surface and the high temperatures. This meant that much of the work during the three hours of free practice revolved around finding a set-up for the F138 that was kind on its tyres. The rain partly spoilt that game plan, as it came just as both Ferrari men were attempting long runs to get data for Sunday’s race. Here, Pirelli has brought the hardest tyre in its range, the Hard and then the Medium which was used last week in Melbourne, although the very different conditions here mean that lessons learned in Australia might not apply here.
Cooling is another key area here and even if the F1 fraternity is well used to the hot and sticky conditions after its fifteen year tenure at this track, dealing with the technicalities of keeping brakes, engines and the humans that drive and work on the cars cool, is still a big part of the workload this weekend. Quickest today was the winner from five days ago in Melbourne, Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus, ahead of Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull. Completing the top six behind the two Ferraristi were Mark Webber in the other Red Bull and Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus.
After running to a normal schedule today, the timetable for Saturday switches to a later start, with FP3 at 13h00 and qualifying at 16h00. That predictably unpredictable weather could once again be the main player in the drama.