2014 Malaysia GP Practice Two: Nico Rosberg ahead for Mercedes but rivals impress too
Top six separated by two tenths as Ferrari and Red Bull show well on pace & tyre life; Grosjean parks up again as Maldonado sits it out
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 28/03/14 3:30pm
In contrast to the corresponding session at the season-opener in Melbourne a fortnight ago when Mercedes led the field by half a second, just 0.061s covered the top three of Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in the afternoon at Sepang, while there was a two tenths of a second gap back to Williams' Felipe Massa in sixth.
Rosberg's fastest effort of 1:39.909, which was just over a tenth quicker than morning pacesetter Lewis Hamilton could manage in the sister W05, came during the qualifying-style simulations on the medium tyres and just pipped Ferrari's Raikkonen to the top spot by 0.035.
While the general feeling is that Mercedes have more speed in hand if needed, and both Rosberg and Hamilton were leading the way on the later longer runs, the pace, and in particular the apparently superior tyre life on the medium tyre, displayed by their key rivals suggested the chasing pack had found some invaluable improvements during the two-week break between races.
Having been unhappy with the set-up of his F14 T since the very start of testing and been beaten by new team-mate Fernando Alonso in every session in Melbourne, Raikkonen's position in second represented the possible early signs of a breakthrough with his car, which also showed well over the longer distances late in the session.
Red Bull, meanwhile, showed more evidence that their winter malaise is behind them with their strongest day on the timesheet yet with the RB10. Intriguingly, amid general signs of encouraging tyre degradation management, Vettel's fastest lap of 1:39.970 unusually came on his second fast lap on the 'option' compound.
Furthermore, team boss Christian Horner suggested to Sky Sports F1 live from the pitwall that their Renault-powered car was "about eight tenths to a second slower down the straights" compared with the more powerful Mercedes. Certainly the speed traps showed the W05 to have five or more kilometres an hour in hand over the RB10.
With Hamilton nonetheless fourth behind Vettel on the timesheet, Alonso took sixth place ahead of former team-mate Massa, who showed well in the Williams. Daniel Ricciardo was seventh in the second Red Bull, as Jenson Button slipped to eighth in the revised McLaren.
The top ten, however, remains far from Lotus's mind and capabilities at the moment with the Enstone team still struggling to keep their troubled E22 running consistently.
After repeat KERS issues restricted both cars' running in P1, Romain Grosjean was twice delayed by a gearbox glitch in P2 which left him stuck in gear, the second occurrence of which stopped the Frenchman out on track.
Still, what Pastor Maldonado would have given for the 14 laps his team-mate did complete after the Venezeulan missed the whole session with his car stripped back to the chassis on the stands in the Lotus garage.
Fellow Renault-powered runners Caterham also ran into problems. Kamui Kobayashi joined Maldonado as a frustrated P2 observer after an oil leak compounded earlier energy store problems on his CT05, while Marcus Ericsson's session was compromised by an internment power unit.