x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Malaysian Grand Prix: Raikkonen turns on the heat as others fret

Lotus driver tops in second practice at Sepang while tyres concern Red Bull duo.

Lotus Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland walks in the pit after the second practice session of the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at Sepang International Circuit outside Kuala Lumpur, March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su (MALAYSIA - Tags: SPORT MOTORSPORT F1) *** Local Caption *** SGP87_MOTOR-RACING-_0322_11.JPG
Lotus Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland walks in the pit after the second practice session of the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at Sepang International Circuit outside Kuala Lumpur, March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su (MALAYSIA - Tags: SPORT MOTORSPORT F1) *** Local Caption *** SGP87_MOTOR-RACING-_0322_11.JPG

SEPANG // So now we know: The Ice Man is in no mood to melt in the Malaysian heat.

Kimi Raikkonen's victory last Sunday at the season-opening grand prix in Australia was seen by some as a strategic success reliant largely on cold, damp track conditions.

On Thursday, Fernando Alonso confidently said that in the tropical heat, his Ferrari would match the Finn's Lotus for pace, while Jenson Button added he reckoned the Malaysian Grand Prix would provide a new winner. Yet, yesterday, in changing conditions, Raikkonen showed he is the man for all seasons, topping the timesheets ahead of reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing and Ferrari's Felipe Massa.

The gap between the top three was less than 0.1 seconds, but the Lotus showed, even without clever strategy, it is more than capable of fighting at the front this weekend.

James Allison, the team's technical director, said that Raikkonen has been provided the team's only aerodynamic update this weekend and, from the performance of the 2007 world champion, it appeared to provide a substantial step from last week.

"It was a pretty good day," Raikkonen said. "We tried changing a few things on the car and made progress with where we wanted to be at the end of the sessions.

"We had some running in the wet, which you often get around here, and the car feels fine.

"We ran pretty heavy, so I don't know how we'll be when everyone is light for qualifying, but I'm happy with where we are and expect we'll be reasonable."

The same confidence could not be seen in the Red Bull garage where the three-times constructors' champions are struggling to get to grips with Pirelli's new quick-degrading tyres.

Webber complained that such is the impact of the rubber compounds that little else matters: "The whole category is geared around tyres at the moment," he said. "Everything is around tyres. Tyres, tyres, tyre, tyres, tyres..."

Vettel expressed concern that he might not have enough tyres to complete tomorrow's 56-lap contest after television footage showed his compounds disintegrating under 41-degree track temperatures.

Asked how he felt about potential race pace, Vettel said things look "pretty OK", but added in regards to tyre life, it is "quite a mess".

"It doesn't look very nice, I would say," he said. "I hope we have enough tyres to survive the race. Tyre wear was pretty severe for everyone, so obviously you go around way under the [potential speed of the] car. It is not a lot of fun and that is how it is."

Raikkonen's ability to care for his tyres in Australia won him the race. Ahead of today's qualifying session, it appears that, once again, rubber and pit-stops will prove more critical than potential rain and race pace.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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