Mark Webber bounced back from his disappointing Australian Grand Prix to dominate an eventful opening practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Friday morning.
Just as he did in Melbourne, the Australian set the pace in P1, but unlike there, he was never challenged for supremacy during the first 90 minutes in Sepang, his Red Bull some 1.665s faster than Lewis Hamilton managed in the McLaren. And as if to make a point, Webber's best, a 1m37.651s, came with less than ten minutes to remaining. He followed it up with another lap within two tenths of his best, both more than a second faster than anyone else managed.
Michael Schumacher moved up to third fastest in the final minutes of the session for Mercedes ahead of an impressive Nico Hulkenberg in his one and only session of the weekend for Force India.
Pastor Maldonado was a strong fifth fastest for Williams, setting his best time quite late into an extraordinary 19-lap run on his primary Pirellis.
Felipe Massa, having spent much of the 90 minutes driving in and out of the pits without setting a time, as he and Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso concentrated on aerodynamic evaluation tests, finally moved up to sixth.
Renault looked strong initially, with Nick Heidfeld setting the early pace, before what looked like a dramatic front-right brake failure saw his wheel remain locked on. The German had only completed six laps at the time, and his time of 1m40.525s was still good enough for seventh.
But the team's problems continued and later Vitaly Petrov, one of the stars of Australia, suffered a catastrophic problem under braking for Turn 9 relating to his left-front wheel, sending him flying into the gravel. It's unclear whether the two issues were related.
The Russian, who ended the session last, was not the only one to have a high-speed scare as Virgin rookie Jerome d'Ambrosio suffered a left-front suspension failure under braking for the final corner, the system exploding in a similar style to that of Sebastian Buemi's STR at China last year.
Tire wear was also more of an issue than it had been in Australia, with significant marbling offline. Turn 8 in particular caught a few drivers out as Hamilton, Fernando Alonso – who ended the session ninth behind Rubens Barrichello, and Sergio Perez all ran wide there. Nico Rosberg meanwhile rounded out the top 10.
What of Australia's dominant winner Sebastian Vettel? He was 17th, behind Jarno Trulli's Lotus, after an usually quiet session. Using the Red Bull KERS, he remained under the radar for nearly the entire 90 minutes but looked like he was just about to turn up the wick when d'Ambrosio's Virgin careered into the gravel – effectively ending the session.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m37.651s 22
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m39.316s + 1.665 16
3. Schumacher Mercedes 1m39.791s + 2.140 29
4. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m40.377s + 2.726 23
5. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m40.443s + 2.792 31
6. Massa Ferrari 1m40.453s + 2.802 22
7. Heidfeld Renault 1m40.525s + 2.874 6
8. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m40.581s + 2.930 21
9. Alonso Ferrari 1m40.601s + 2.950 23
10. Rosberg Mercedes 1m40.646s + 2.995 29
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m40.734s + 3.083 21
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m40.748s + 3.097 23
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m40.770s + 3.119 24
14. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m40.872s + 3.221 27
15. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m40.927s + 3.276 16
16. Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m41.620s + 3.969 21
17. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m41.627s + 3.976 18
18. Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.642s + 3.991 24
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m42.154s + 4.503 18
20. d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m42.540s + 4.889 20
21. Valsecchi Lotus-Renault 1m44.054s + 6.403 18
22. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m45.228s + 7.577 20
23. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m46.267s + 8.616 10
24. Petrov Renault 1m47.932s + 10.281 4
All Timing Unofficial