Webber quickest but Raikkonen splits the Red Bulls

By Michael Casey, AP, 21 March 2013
© Clive Mason/Getty Images/Red Bull Racing

Red Bull driver Mark Webber drove the quickest time in the first practice ahead of Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix, edging Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen as the Australian looks for his first victory in over six months.

Webber, who finished a disappointing sixth at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix last week, outpaced Melbourne-winner Raikkonen by 0.068 seconds. The Finn was followed by his teammate defending three-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull who was 0.169 seconds off the pace.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was fourth fastest, while his teammate Felipe Massa had to settle for seventh.

Several other big names, however, struggled amid the hot and humid conditions.

Lewis Hamilton ended up ninth for Mercedes, while Jenson Button's McLaren continued its struggle to perform ending up 11th.

It was a largely uneventful practice although Force India's Adrian Sutil damaged a front wing when he went roughly over a curb.

Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez also spun out after coming too close to a Ferrari, but there was no damage to his car.

Raikkonen is aiming to solidify his surprise lead at the top of the driver's standings with a victory in Malaysia, but much will depend on the weather. The Sepang circuit, more than any other, has a history of being hit by afternoon rain showers that are common at this time of year.

Alonso won last year's race only after Sergio Perez ran off the track just as he was attempting to pass the Spaniard in wet conditions. The race was delayed by 51 minutes because of the rain.

Alonso finished second in Australia and has expressed confidence that his car will be able to keep pace this weekend with Raikkonen.

Red Bull, in contrast, continues to exude the confidence expected from a team that won the last three constructors championships. The team comes into this weekend fretting about heavy degradation of the new-season Pirelli tyres, which cost it valuable pace in Australia and forced Vettel to settle for third.


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