Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton admit tyre wear a concern in heat of Malaysia
Silver Arrows still fastest, but tyre fears return as Mercedes as drivers suffer 'massive degradation' and World Champs Red Bull close the gap
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 30/03/14 12:32pm
Although a Mercedes driver ended both sessions at the top of the timesheets - with Lewis Hamilton fastest in P1 and Nico Rosberg quickest in the afternoon's Practice Two - the team's progress was stymied by severe degradation on their rear tyres.
Whilst there is little doubt that the W05 remains the fastest package on show, with the car boasting a speed advantage over Red Bull of approximately 10kmh along the back straights, both Ferrari and World Champions Red Bull have appeared to made significant inroads in the two weeks since the season-opening Australian GP where Rosberg claimed an emphatic victory after Hamilton's early exit.
Having led the field by half a second in Friday Practice at Melbourne, 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.
Perhaps equally as significantly, neither Hamilton nor Rosberg's W05 appeared able to run as long as the F14 T or RB10 on the faster but more brittle medium tyre - the softer of the two compounds selected for this weekend.
"The conditions are very tough and we didn't expect such massive degradation," admitted Rosberg to Sky Sports News. "It's a big challenge. There will be lots of different strategies and anything could happen. Fuel strategy shouldn't be a challenge, we're just focused on the tyres."
Having led the way in the morning session, Hamilton was 0.142s slower than Rosberg in the afternoon and agreed that the famously hot and humid Sepang weather - which produced soaring track temperatures of 50 degrees in P2 - was far from ideal for tyre wear.
"It's too hot for the tyres," Hamilton told Sky Sports News.
"The tyres arent really working well in these conditions and even though we've got the hard tyre and the medium here, the tyres do not feel great. But it's the same for everyone."
Despite the timesheets suggesting Ferrari and Red Bull in particular had eroded some of Mercedes' big Melbourne advantage, Hamilton said he welcomed the increased challenge.
"I never do [look at the Friday order], but it's good that everyone's close. What matters is what happens tomorrow."
The 29-year-old, while being particularly cagey about his race prospects this weekend, did welcome the fact that problematic engine that caused his early retirement in Australia had come through P1 unscathed following repairs.
"It saves us perhaps the grid penalty further along the way, so it's good," he said.
"I had that less mileage on the engine so I hope I can push it a bit more."
Qualifying begins at 8am UK time on Saturday morning with Sunday's race, live on Sky Sports F1, underway from 9am.