2013 Malaysian GP Practice Two: Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen heads closely-matched session
Less than a tenth separates Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari at Sepang
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 22/03/13 1:46pm
The Lotus driver edged the pack on both the hard and medium compound tyres during the quicker afternoon session but there really was little to choose between the three teams which, on the compelling evidence of Albert Park last Sunday, have the most competitive overall packages so far in 2013 with the lead Red Bull and Ferrari both within a tenth of a second of the Finn.
With Raikkonen setting a best lap of 1:36.569 just as the first few spots of rain were beginning to fall in the middle of the circuit, World Champion Sebastian Vettel had earlier posted a time which was a mere 0.19s slower for Red Bull with Ferrari's Felipe Massa also a mouth-wateringly close margin - 0.092s - back.
Indeed, the top six of the timesheet was dominated by the aforementioned trio's cars - Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Romain Grosjean lining up fourth through sixth - with a clear - and substantial - gap in laptime back to the rest, on notoriously unreliable practice evidence at least.
However, Mercedes, who finished with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in seventh and ninth places respectively, didn't appear to show much of their single-pace hand as the Brackley team deliberately spent the start of the session concentrating on heavier fuel runs as they looked to improve the tyre degradation issues experienced over the longer distance in Melbourne.
As in Practice One, McLaren were just over a second off the ultimate pace of Red Bull with Sergio Perez and Jenson Button separated by three hundredths of a second on the fringes of the top ten.
"We did our race work at the beginning of the session, slightly back to front because this rain was anticipated," Mercedes boss Ross Brawn told David Croft during Sky Sports F1's Pit Wall Live feature.
"I think with the situation at the last race doing the race work was important and we had some good runs with both cars. So at least we have that information."
The rain, when it hit with just under half of the session completed, wasn't as notorious as it usually is at Sepang and after a brief lull in track action cars were soon out on track on intermediates.
Indeed, it wasn't too long after that when, amid the ever-oppresive Malaysian temperatures, the track had dried sufficiently for slicks to be pressed back into service, although the best times ultimately remained a handful of second slower than the earlier hot pace.
Outside the usual suspects at the front, Force India again had an edge over their midfield rivals - and struggling McLaren - as both Paul di Resta (eighth) and Adrian Sutil (tenth) sneaked into the top ten.
However, it wasn't completely plain sailing for the latter in particular who missed the closing stages of the session as Force India mechanics worked to fix a problem on his VJM06.
The sweeping Sepang track, during both the dry and wet running, caught out numerous drivers with both Caterham drivers spinning and Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg doing the same - albeit in the pitlane entry road following the onset of the rain.
British rookie Max Chilton propped up the timesheets at the end of his first day as an F1 driver at Sepang, the 21-year-old completing relatively few laps - 23 - as Marussia took time to alleviate severe rear tyre wear issues. At the start of the session Chilton's car right-rear tyre had developed a massive flat-spot within a handful of laps.