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Rosberg quickest in opening session at Sepang


In case you weren't aware, since last year's race the track has been completely resurfaced, while a number of corners, most notably T15 have been re-profiled in an attempt to make the track less abrasive, improve flow and also drainage.

This, and the fact that the event has returned to a late stage in the season like when it first joined the calendar back in 1999, means that the teams and drivers are going to have to reacquaint themselves with a Sepang a little different to what they encountered eighteen months ago. Grip is sure to be different as will tyre degradation, to the extent that many of the drivers have been watching the GP2 and GP3 support races in an attempt to glean advance information.

Ahead of today's opening session, the air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 35 degrees.

Surprisingly, though of course this race is back-to-back with Japan and a long way from the teams' HQs, there are no reserve/third drivers on duty.

While the drivers' championship is as tight as ever, Mercedes can wrap up the team title this weekend, in many ways a mere formality such is the German team's domination this year (again).

As in Singapore, the tyre options are hard, medium and soft. Meanwhile, in a change from recent years, there will be a single DRS detection point, 54m after Turn 12, though there are still two activation points, the first 104m after Turn 14 and the second activation 28m after Turn 15.

The lights go green and Gutierrez leads the way, followed by Nasr and Palmer, all three of whom have yet to secure drives for next season… yet.

In no time at all there are 18 drivers on track running a mixture of all three compounds.

On his installation lap Gutierrez is told that there's nobody behind him. They were expecting blue flags? Already?

Five minutes in and all but Hamilton have made an appearance.

Before a wheel has turned Alonso already knows he will be starting from the back on Sunday, the Spaniard having taken on a new upgraded engine and various components.

Drama in the pitlane where Magnussen's car is on fire as the Dane is pushed back into its garage. As flames leap from the car his crew is quickly on the job with extinguishers. As Magnussen leaps from his car and the fire is put out there is liquid (fuel) pouring out from atop the airbox.

Without warning, as fuel is drained from the car it bursts into flames again, yet no sign of the session being stopped. That said, there is nobody on track.

As the car bursts into flames for a third time, and thick extinguisher smoke fills the air, the session is red flagged. Magnussen watches on nonplussed.

A couple of brave mechanics gingerly remove the airbox, all under the gaze of the TV cameras. Thankfully, the fire appears to have been finally extinguished.

"Concern in the garage for our comrades in yellow," admits Mercedes. "Nobody wants to see that kind of thing."

The car safely back in its garage, the job of cleaning up the pitlane gets underway. Meanwhile the clock is still ticking and we are twenty-three minutes into a session that will not be extended.

Replay shows that as Magnussen headed into the pitlane there was already smoke coming from the back of the car. It also reveals a couple of very brave crew members help the Dane out of his car, even though they are in shirtsleeves.

The session resumes with 64 minutes remaining. Race control reveals that drivers will be allowed another thirty minutes with their extra set of tyres which is normally handed back around this time.

"Kevin is ok, thank you to all those asking," confirms Renault.

Unsurprisingly, when the session resumes there is a mad scramble to get back on track, in no time at all there are 18 drivers on track.

Alonso posts the first time of the weekend (39.797) but this is soon beaten, not least by Rosberg who crosses the line at 35.793.

Sainz is among the first to discover that the new surface is far from gripped in, the Spaniard going cross-country in T11.

Hamilton posts 35.798 to go second, just 0.005s slower than his teammate, as the Briton gives notice of his intentions this weekend.

Raikkonen is third, ahead of (birthday boy) Verstappen, Vettel and Kvyat.

Vettel complains that he is having trouble with his vision, such is the vibration his car is suffering. Onboard footage confirms this.

Hamilton takes to the grass at T9, he subsequently returns to the pits his front tyres badly flat-spotted.

"One of the big difficulties of the session is that qualifying comes much later in the day than usual here. So you don't learn much now," admits Pirelli. As was the case in Singapore.

While his teammate's car is being forensically examined, Palmer is back on track. The Briton posts 41.391 to go 20th.

A 35.227 sees Rosberg extend the gap to his teammate from 0.005s to 0.571s.

Grosjean complains of "weird things between 12 and 15", the Frenchman saying that the car suddenly "snapped out". The team confirms that it will investigate.

Approaching half time, of a session in which we lost over 15 minutes of running, it's: Rosberg, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Perez, Hulkenberg, Button and Alonso… and you don't get much more symmetrical than that.

Button improves to 8th (37.613) and Kvyat 10th (37.847), thereby ruining the two-by-two effect. With 13 laps under his belt, the Russian is the busiest driver thus far.

Having posted their best times on the softs, the Mercedes duo are now back on track on the medium rubber. Both Ferraris were over a second slower than Rosberg on the softs.

On the medium rubber Hamilton really struggles for grip. As he runs wide over the kerbs the slo-mo replay shows the car taking a serious pounding. While he initially looked set to improve on his previous best time - set on the softs - he loses six-tenths in the final couple of corners.

The symmetry at the top of the timesheet is mirrored at the foot, with the Manor, Renault, Sauber and Haas duos behind the Williams pair.

Check out our Friday gallery from Sepang, here.


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