Formula 1: Kimi Raikkonen staying on track

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KIMI Raikkonen posted his intent to start the new Formula 1 season with back-to-back wins after finishing quickest in practice ahead of tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Just five days after chalking up his 20th career victory by taking the chequered flag in Australia, Raikkonen proved the win was not a flash in the pan as Lotus appear to be strong title contenders.

After ending FP1 in a Red Bull sandwich as Raikkonen split pacesetter Mark Webber and triple world champion Sebastian Vettel, the Finn went one better in the second 90-minute session as his form from Melbourne spilled over into Malaysia.

Raikkonen’s time of 1min 35.569sec was four tenths of a second ahead of Webber’s best earlier in the day, and quicker than anything from across all three sessions of last year. The prime reason was the switch to the faster medium compound Pirelli tyre for his run, as opposed to the hard rubber also available.

The 33-year-old edged Vettel into second place by 0.019secs, with the German followed closely by Felipe Massa in his Ferrari, the Brazilian 0.092secs adrift. Massa was comfortably clear of team-mate Fernando Alonso, runner-up in Melbourne, with Webber fifth fastest and Romain Grosjean sixth on the timesheet for Lotus.

Nico Rosberg again had the edge on Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with the duo seventh and ninth and the latter a full second adrift of Raikkonen, either side of Force India’s Paul Di Resta. Hamilton, in particular, has been suffering with high degradation to his rear tyres on a circuit where he has yet to win, with his highest finish second in his debut year of 2007.

Adrian Sutil rounded out the top ten, but sat out most of the session with a technical problem to his Force India that restricted him to ten laps.

For McLaren, it is apparent Jenson Button and Sergio Perez again face an uphill struggle in their bid to get into the top ten as the duo finished 12th and 11th respectively, 1.2secs down.

At present on this track there appears a clear gulf between the top six teams and the bottom five of Sauber, Williams, Toro Rosso, Caterham and Marussia.

Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg was two tenths of a second behind Button, with a gulf then to his rookie team-mate Esteban Gutierrez who was two seconds off the pace in 14th.