Hamilton on top as Red Bull suffer reliability woes

McLAREN driver Lewis Hamilton set the fastest times in both of yesterday's practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix, while Red Bull had another worrying reliability failure.

Hamilton's time of one minute 34.175 seconds in the second session put him ahead of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg.

Mark Webber's Red Bull was hit by engine failure during the second session, coasting to a stop in a gravel trap. That extended Red Bull's run of mechanical problems this season after Vettel was struck by unusual reliability issues while leading both the Bahrain and Australian Grands Prix.

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"You never want your Friday disturbed, and today's problem cost us quite a bit of track time," Webber said. "It's never ideal to lose an engine, but we did, although it was quite high mileage." Reigning F1 champion Jenson Button, the winner in Melbourne last weekend, was fourth fastest in his McLaren. He was followed by Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, Renault's Robert Kubica, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi.

The modest performance by championship leader Alonso, and team-mate Felipe Massa's 15th position, had Ferrari worried about their prospects at Sepang. "There's a lot of work to do to prepare for the race: we can foresee a very difficult weekend," Ferrari posted on its Twitter feed.

Both sessions were run in dry conditions, but on each occasion, a tropical shower hit shortly after the end. That meant all teams had yet to test their wet-weather set-ups – a potential problem given rain and storms were forecast for both today and tomorrow.

Hamilton was enthused about his car's balance, but not yet prepared to say McLaren would have the measure of their rivals in the fight for pole position. "It was probably the best feeling I've had in the car on this circuit," Hamilton said. "Our qualifying pace has not been great the past two races so hopefully tomorrow will be better for us. It appears we're quite competitive but we don't know what other people are doing with fuel loads, so we will have to wait and see tomorrow."

Team-mate Button had more of a struggle yesterday, complaining of poor balance, while Vettel had some difficulties with his steering in the second session, but emerged late to set a time that was only a quarter of a second behind Hamilton. "We still need to get a little bit quicker," Vettel said. "The McLarens and the Mercedes look quick and Ferrari have a decent long run pace, so we'll have to see where we are."

Schumacher again finished behind his team-mate Rosberg on the timesheets, but the seven-time world champion was accentuating the positive as he gets back to grips with F1 after three years in retirement. "Certainly things go better and better each time I'm out and getting back into it," Schumacher said. "It went more or less like I expected it."

Alonso was not concerned about finishing 1.4 seconds off Hamilton's time, and not sharing his team's pessimism about the prospects for the weekend. "Today is just practice," Alonso said. "We were in position 15 in Australia on Friday and then were quite quick in qualifying."

After Kubica's surprise second place in Australia, the Renaults showed enough pace to suggest they could again be podium contenders tomorrow, with the Polish driver outpacing both Ferraris, while his team-mate Vitaly Petrov was ninth quickest despite a restricted programme.