March 22nd, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Mercedes bucked the trend in Friday practice, making no attempt to set particularly quick lap times, and instead concentrated on long run pace on the hard and medium compound tyres in preparation for Sunday's race. Nonetheless, Nico Rosberg ended FP2 with the seventh fastest time, and Lewis Hamilton was just a tenth of a second back in ninth place.
After the Australian Grand Prix, Ross Brawn and Lewis Hamilton expressed the opinion that the Mercedes team had not made the best possible use of Free Practice during the weekend. It's clear that they have made some changes to the team's programme during Friday running, as today Mercedes appeared to completely ignore what the other teams were doing and simply concentrated on trying to prepare the car for race day as well as possible.
Rosberg and Hamilton each managed to complete long runs on both the orange hard and white medium dry tyre compounds, and also managed to do some running on the green-marked intermediate tyre when the rain came down in the second half of FP2. The focus on long runs came as a result of the extreme importance of tyre management in last week's Australian Grand Prix - long run pace for the race seems to be possibly more important that securing a strong grid position after Kimi Raikkonen won the season-opener from seventh on the grid. In Saturday's FP3 session, Mercedes are more likely to show their one-lap pace, as they prepare for qualifying.
This weekend's Grand Prix is one of three home races for Mercedes, as title sponsor Petronas is a Malaysian company. The other two home races for the Silver Arrows are in Germany (home of Mercedes-Benz) and Great Britain (the team is based in Brackley). The Petronas connection adds some special significance to the weekend, and everyone in the team will be keen to deliver a strong result on Sunday to back up the inital perception that this year's Mercedes is a much stronger car than those of the last three seasons.
This is what the team had to say after Friday practice:
Nico Rosberg: "We worked a lot on our long run pace today, rather than being quick over one lap. As we saw in Melbourne, tyre management will be the key to success, so that’s our focus for the practice sessions. The conditions were tough out there and the heat is unbelievable. Generally we learnt a lot today but we still have some homework to do tonight and tomorrow."
Lewis Hamilton: "We made some positive steps with the set-up over the two sessions today. I had a good long run in the dry which has given us a lot of information to look at tonight. We didn’t learn too much in the wet this afternoon however as the conditions were quite mixed when I went out. We focused mainly on longer runs today so I haven’t done a quick lap yet on either set of tyres; that will come tomorrow. I’m happy with the direction that we’re going and let’s see what the weekend brings."
Ross Brawn: "We’ve had a good first day in Sepang. The programme focused on understanding the performance and consistency of the tyres and we learnt a lot today which will be relevant for the race on Sunday. The running was a little compromised by the conditions this afternoon but we had anticipated that and managed to get most of our work done before the rain came. Overall, I’m reasonably happy with the work that we achieved today."
Toto Wolff: "We ran through a solid programme today where we focused most of all on race preparation on high fuel. We did two good long runs with Nico and Lewis, which has given us lots of data to compare. Well done to the guys for managing the programme so we could get the maximum from the dry track conditions. Tomorrow, we will concentrate more on one-lap pace and see where we stand. But we saw last weekend that, more than ever, this season is about being quick on Sunday, not just Saturday."