Lewis Hamilton 'surprised' by Ferrari pace but expects to improve
Engine and telemetry problems restrict world champion's running, but Hamilton still sets Friday practice pace at Sepang
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 01/04/15 3:47pm
Lewis Hamilton admits Ferrari’s strong pace relative to Mercedes in practice at Sepang came as a surprise but says he has plenty of improvements to find after a disjointed opening day.
Following a trouble-free start to his title defence in Melbourne, where Hamilton claimed pole and race victory, the Briton ran into problems inside five laps in Malaysia when an engine problem curtailed his P1 running. The team had already been running without telemetry from his W06.
The engine issue was traced to a failure on the power unit’s inlet system, although the fault resulted in lengthy repairs and Hamilton remained on the sidelines for the opening exchanges in P2. After a brief return on the hard tyres was then interrupted by further telemetry trouble, Hamilton completed a belated qualifying simulation on the medium tyres and vaulted straight to the top of the timesheets.
However, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen lapped within four tenths of the lead Mercedes and then fared well on the later race simulations as drivers elsewhere struggled with tyre degradation in the sweltering track conditions. The form of the SF15-T caught Hamilton’s eye, although he pointed out that his problematic day had allowed scant time for set-up work.
“The Ferraris look great, they really do. It’s surprising to see how good their times are, we’ll see if that continues through the weekend,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1.
“I know my lap wasn’t spectacular. I’ve got some improvements that I can make with the balance and the settings but they were all just what we brought from the last race. I’m sure we’ll tweak and improve it a little bit.”
Hamilton thanked his crew for their work on repairing the engine as he admits it was vital to complete as many laps as possible in the testing weather conditions.
“It was an amazing job by the guys to get the engine and gearbox back on and get me back out. Particularly here where it’s so hot and difficult for the tyres it was really important to get back out and do some laps,” he added.
“It affects you quite a bit. Fortunately I got a few laps of a longer run at the end, but in terms of set-up I’ve not made any changes so I’ve driven what I have and it’s quite a bit off of where we need it.”
With his team-mate sidelined during the morning session, Nico Rosberg set the overall pace in P1, although an error on the German’s first flying lap on the medium tyres contributed to him finishing behind Raikkonen in third in the second session.
Rosberg explained that the hot conditions were challenging even by Malaysian standards and it was already clear that the more durable hard tyre was going to be the compound of choice in Sunday’s race.
“We have different tyres this year and supposedly they suffer a bit less, but it doesn’t seem like it at the moment,” he told Sky F1.
“Then again we had record track temperatures out there, it was more than 60 degrees on the asphalt! I can feel the asphalt through the chassis and the 60 degrees comes straight through the cockpit and it’s extremely hot in the car.
“The prime is going to be the race tyre and we’ll have to see how far we can get with the soft tyre.”
After being defeated by Hamilton in Melbourne, and having only once beaten the sister Mercedes on race day since last July, Rosberg admitted on Thursday that he needed the “perfect weekend” to win at Sepang.
A day on and the 29-year-old’s mindset has not changed.
“Everything is crucial, every part of it. Qualifying is going to be very important as well.”