Mercedes top both Friday Practice Sessions after Dramatic Renault Fire

Track temperatures reached a frazzling 54 degrees Celsius during Friday’s practice sessions but boiling point was reached early on in FP1 as Kevin Magnussen’s Renault burst into perpetual flames.

A fuel leak was the result of pressure build-up in the fuel tank due to the fuel breather system failing. Magnussen was out of the car and away to safety almost immediately with thanks to the mechanics rolling him back in to the garage. Questions have already been raised about what might have been had the Dane been running a Halo protection system.

A red flag stopped FP1 before it had really started as around 20 Renault personnel and risky camera crew fought the flames that continued to burn for around 10 minutes.

When the session resumed, the freshly laid track surface was causing plenty of drivers to wobble around, drift wide and oscillate on newly placed kerbs. Nico Rosberg topped FP1 with a 1:35:227, a time that is over 4-seconds faster than last year’s fastest FP3 session. The German was followed by Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes and the Ferrari’s of Raikkonen  and Vettel, who were both a whole second down on Rosberg’s fastest.

Alonso finished the session in 5th in his updated McLaren-Honda which is looking more than handy around Sepang. It’s a shame he will be starting the race from the back of the grid after an engine penalty in Spa last time out.

The Red Bull’s and Force India’s finished 6th-9th with Ricciardo and Hulkenberg the leading team-mates and Jenson Button rounded out the top ten.

FP2 was a smoother session with plenty of running. Lewis Hamilton topped the session and dipped into the 1:34’s to pip Rosberg by just over two-tenths. So after both sessions, the Mercedes drivers are on equal footing in the confidence department.

The gap back to Sebastian Vettel, last year’s winner, was six-tenths from the fastest time in 3rd with Raikkonen 4th, so Ferrari look like the challengers for this weekend. The top ten for FP2 was made up of the same drivers that featured in FP1’s top ten. Red Bull, Force India, McLaren and then a repeat of that order.

Verstappen was 5th, Perez 6th and Alonso 7th with Ricciardo 8th, Hulkenberg 9th and Button 10th. It will be an tight battle between these three teams although Alonso’s demotion to the back could see whoever finishes 11th in Q2 tomorrow with a great tactical advantage. They could start the race from 10th with starting tyre choice if Alonso makes it to Q3.

Here the man! 300th GP!!! ???????????? @jensonbutton_22

A photo posted by Fernando Alonso (@fernandoalo_oficial) on

Elsewhere, the Renault inferno of Magnussen was quickly and impressively turned around in between sessions but the Dane could only manage 19th. His team-mate Jolyon Palmer had an impressive FP2 though, securing 12th and most importantly, the prospect of points should he qualify around that position.

Williams were only 13th and 15th in FP2, but they’re renowned for being poker players on Friday and don’t usually reveal their hand until FP3.

Sauber also looked slightly stronger here with Ericsson 17th and Nasr 18th. Whilst they’re still running near the back, there have been so many Practice sessions that they’ve had one car rock bottom, so the Swiss team might have a proper scrap in the midfield on Sunday.

Today’s sessions were hotly being anticipated as an opportunity to see which Mercedes driver might have an edge but after FP1 and FP2, it’s either driver’s pole and victory to lose. McLaren are again showing the sort of Friday Practice promise that we saw in Monza and Ferrari will be looking to close the 0.6s gap to Mercedes for tomorrow.