x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Lewis Hamilton stays cautious despite impressive pace

The McLaren-Mercedes driver remained focused on the work ahead rather than reflecting on a dominant day in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton was fastest in both practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton was fastest in both practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

KUALA LUMPUR // With the expected monsoon rains conspicuously absent at a humid Sepang International Circuit, it was left to Formula One's leading drivers to dampen expectations ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton enjoyed a perfect day in the sun as he topped the time sheets in both practice sessions yesterday, yet the McLaren-Mercedes driver spoke of the "hard work ahead".

Likewise, Michael Schumacher, who clocked the second-quickest lap of the day for Mercedes-GP, warned his team "should not be too optimistic".

At last week's season-opening race in Melbourne, every driver in the paddock proclaimed that nobody knew what to expect from their car; this weekend is proving more of the same, with weather conditions expected to play a key role in today's qualifying session.

Less than one second covered the top seven drivers in the afternoon.

"It's been a good day for me," said Hamilton, who finished third in Australia after starting on pole. "We've made a few changes to the balance of the car since the last race and I'm much happier.

"Around here, overtaking will be a little more possible than in Melbourne. Nevertheless, starting from the front will still be the best position for the race, and that's what I'll be going for. We've got to keep pushing, stay hydrated and remain focused. There's a lot of hard work ahead."

Schumacher, whose Mercedes team look to be the most-improved on last season, said he was not getting too excited about finishing second fastest in the afternoon; the 43-year-old German has enough experience to know the opening day of a race weekend is as unpredictable as the Malaysian weather.

He holds the record for the most front-row starts in history, but has not began in first or second place on the grid in a grand prix since Japan 2006.

"I am very happy about the work that has been done since Australia," the seven-time world champion said.

"This has enabled us to achieve reasonably consistent long runs, which is obviously important in these conditions.

"Saying that, we also know that everyone works on different programmes on Fridays, so I would guess we have not seen everything yet. We are very much aware that we should not be too optimistic" about yesterday's outcome.

Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion, who has won for the last two years in Malaysia, was second fastest in the morning in his Red Bull Racing car, but off the pace in a lowly 10th by the end of the afternoon session.

He said he was disappointed, but content with his day's work. "I would love to be a bit higher up, but all in all we had decent running, although there is still a lot to do," The tyres drop off quite quickly here, which is the same for all the drivers, but I think we are sliding quite a bit and I would like the car to be a bit more stable.

"We made a good step, the potential is there, but we need to get to it."

Kimi Raikkonen, the Lotus driver, will receive a five-place grid penalty after qualifying as a result of a gearbox change being made to his car after practice.