Sulky Sebastian Vettel made his re-appearance in Malaysia this morning, having a reasonably sized moan about this year’s Pirelli tyres stealing his fun, forgetting for a moment that they’re there for our fun; more pit stops equals better races.
Not that Red Bull looked in any real bother, Mark Webber leading the field in the all-dry Free Practice One — maybe that’s what got Seb all pouty. Yet the champ still managed third in FP1 and second in FP2, although the new RB9 does appear to remain hungry for rubber. Vettel and Webber were the only drivers to lay into Pirelli as far as we can see.
It was all silent over in championship leader Kimi Raikkonen’s corner (isn’t it always), after a confident performance that saw Kimi on top in the dry-wet-dry second session. It’s tight, and Ferrari are once again right behind with Massa again quicker than Alonso in FP2, the pair ahead of Webber and Grosjean and with not much to choose between the two Mercedes and the two Force Indias.
Tyre wear continues to be a problem with the ‘factory’ cars, while at the ‘customer’ Force India Mercedes, Adrian Sutil’s starring performance at Melbourne seems to have stirred Paul di Resta from his somnambulance; eighth in both sessions.
So there’s the top ten for tomorrow; one Lotus looking strong, another slightly less so, but we now know to be lacking the latest fast bits; two Ferraris that are marginally better on their tyres than the two Red Bulls; two Mercs that are underperforming and two Force Indias that are over-performing.
And no McLarens. Just outside the top ten, Button and Perez at least looked marginally less bad than they did in Australia, and Button, for one, claimed the troublesome-28 wasn’t munching through its tyres. A spot of rain in qualifying and in the race and the team might even get a result with the Rain Man; McLaren reckoned that in the intermediate period in FP2 the new car was on the pace.
Sauber had another difficult day but look faster than Williams, who may or may not have been faster than Toro Rosso (who have yet to show any real sign of forward movement after its big engineering department re-shuffle last year).
And in what’s turning out to be one of the stories of the year, Jules Bianchi (nurtured by Ferrari) again impressed in the Marussia, out pacing the Williams-nurtured Valterri Bottas in the Williams. Bottas was meant to be this year’s big news. It looks like Bianchi will be. Top Gear Editor at Large Jason Barlow officially started the ‘Bianchi-to-Ferrari in 2014 rumour on Twitter this morning. Yes Jason, but which seat will he take?
Caterham trundled around in last year’s cars at the back, which combined with Bianchi’s speed, must make it hard for Max Chilton. He’s in danger of making the lowest-profile entry to F1 of a British Driver since former-Stig Perry McCarthy. Until he wrote a book about it (did I just start a rumour of my own?). Still, hats off to Chilton; can’t be good for a young man’s ego to admit his target for the weekend is to lose less time while marshals are waving blue flags at him.
It’s going to be a good qualifying session, if the weather lets it happen. No live BBC this weekend, so if you don’t have Sky try listening to the excellent Five Live Sports Extra coverage. Qualifying starts at 08.00 GMT and there are highlights with Suzi and her boys at 13.00 on BBC1…