Sepang - Sebastian Vettel smashed the all-time Sepang lap
record on Friday as Ferrari put the pressure on Lewis Hamilton before a track
fault brought an early halt to Malaysian Grand Prix practice on Friday.
Vettel clocked 1min 31.261sec around the 5.543-kilometre
circuit on his qualifying simulation run in the second session to smash the old
record of 1:32.50 set by Fernando Alonso in 2005.
Vettel's Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was second,
six-tenths of a second adrift.
The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were
third and fourth on a frustrating day for Mercedes' championship leader,
Hamilton who was only sixth fastest with Valtteri Bottas seventh.
Hamilton had been on just his 10th lap of the afternoon when
he took too much speed into turn eight, resulting in a sideways excursion into
the gravel and a wrecked set of soft tyres.
Hamilton did manage to avoid beaching the car and was able
to limp back to the pits, where his mechanics removed the nose and started
making frantic changes to the set-up.
When he did re-emerge with 40 minutes of the session
remaining his car appeared still to be handling erratically, and his first
timed lap was fully 1.4 seconds down on Vettel.
Then he suffered the embarrassment of being overtaken by the
immensely improved McLaren of Alonso, who was enjoying his best practice of the
season in fifth on the timing sheets.
Moments earlier his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, struggling
with his own set-up, had also ploughed into the gravel at turn 11 although he
too was able to get the car back to the garage.
The session ended 20 minutes early when Romain Grosjean hit
a loose drain cover at turn 9, ripping his rear tyre apart and throwing his
Haas into the barriers at around 200 kph.
The Frenchman was lucky to be able to walk away but with no
time to repair the offending part of the track the session was red flagged and
then called off 10 minutes early.
Rookie Pierre Gasly also suffered a scare when he came into
the pits with huge amounts of smoke billowing from the rear of his Toro Rosso.
But it turned out to be just a minor oil leak and he was
soon on his way again.
Earlier, the first 30 minutes of the morning practice had
been lost because of heavy rain.
The two Red Bulls set the pace as lap times tumbled towards
the end as the track dried and drivers switched to intermediate tyres.
Verstappen managed just 11 laps but his best at 1min
48.962sec was 0.757sec quicker than Ricciardo.
Alonso was third, two seconds adrift of Verstappen as the
Red Bulls proved untouchable in the wet.
Hamilton did not bother to leave the shelter of the Mercedes
garage until 30 minutes from the end of the session, and could only set the
sixth fastest time, three seconds behind the leading Red Bull and eclipsed by
Vettel was only fifth quickest in the morning, four-tenths
slower than Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.