Lewis Hamilton fastest in practice for Malaysian Grand Prix

The Malaysian torture that leaves even super-fit Button breathless

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UPDATED:

20:56 GMT, 23 March 2012

During the longest
race of the season,
man and machine
will be pushed to the
limit by the stifling
heat and humidty of the
Malaysian Grand Prix.

The purpose-built Sepang circuit
is far removed from the cool conditions
of Melbourne's Albert Park,
with precious little time between
back-to-back races for drivers and
teams to acclimatise.

Flying the flag: Lewis Hamilton in action during first practice ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang

Flying the flag: Lewis Hamilton in action during first practice ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang

Even for supreme athletes like
McLaren duo Lewis Hamilton and
amateur triathlete Jenson Button,
the physical demands of Sepang
will test their fitness to the absolute
maximum.

Conditions were relatively favourable
for the drivers and cars in Friday's practice session –
Hamilton was fastest going into
this morning's qualifying. Even so,
the air temperature was still in
excess of 30 degrees, the track temperature
a tyre-chewing 45 degrees
while the relative humidity reached
an energy-sapping 62 per cent.

Phil Duncan F1 blog

Little wonder that Button considers the Malaysian Grand Prix to be the toughest on the calendar.

'It's the humidity more than anything else,' he explained. 'Most drivers are used to training hard and training for an hour and a half isn't an issue. But it's the humidity here that is tough for everyone.'

Even the two long straights offer no respite.

'When you get on to them you can't breathe,' said Button.

'That's normally a rest for us, on the straight, when we just change gears and play around with a few switches. But here you don't get that luxury because you can't breathe. It's so hot, the air coming into the car, so it's very difficult.'

Button expects to lose around 7lb during 56 laps tomorrow as he strives to make it two wins out of two in 2012. But the gruelling training regime devised by Button's personal trainer Mike 'Muscles' Collier is specifically designed for such torturous conditions.

Smiles better: Hamilton shares a joke with a McLaren team-mate showing he was back in good spirits

Smiles better: Hamilton shares a joke with a McLaren team-mate showing he was back in good spirits

'We do most of the training for
races like this one,' said Collier. 'It
is two or three hours of endurance
training, trying to provide Jenson
with a challenge that is far greater
than being in the car which feels
easy by comparison.

'Jenson's baseline fitness gives
him a massive advantage. You are
able to manage the demands far
easier, and consequently you can
respond to what is happening on
the track more easily. You can make
those split decisions because your
reserve is far greater than someone
who is really feeling the effects.

'The humidity puts a hell of a
strain on the drivers. They struggle
for fresh air and it feels very claustrophobic
inside the cockpit.

In the hunt: World champion Sebastian Vettel was second fastest behind Hamilton in first practice

In the hunt: World champion Sebastian Vettel was second fastest behind Hamilton in first practice

Glum: But Vettel's pace was down in the second session as he could only finish 10th

Glum: But Vettel's pace was down in the second session as he could only finish 10th

'Because you cannot get rid of the
sweat due to the humidity, your
core temperature and heart rate
rise. In order to keep your core
temperature stable certain systems
will shut down. We saw it in
Valencia with Fernando Alonso
when he passed out because of
dehydration.

'Jenson has had it the past. Your
reactions will be slower and when
you are doing 200mph, that becomes
potentially life-threatening.'

The concoction in Button's drinks
bottle is designed specifically to
ensure such danger is averted. 'It
makes what is circulating in the body
a bit more glue-like so you are able to
keep it on board,' said Collier.

'It contains protein to keep your
hydration up, electrolytes to
replace the ones you lose through
sweating and carbohydrates for
energy. That keeps the brain and
the muscles working and responding
to what is going on outside.'

Tinkering: Ferrari star Fernando Alonso heads in for a pit-stop during practice in Malaysia

Tinkering: Ferrari star Fernando Alonso heads in for a pit-stop during practice in Malaysia

Meanwhile, as Button and his
competitors deal with the oppressive
Malaysian weather – even the
regular downpours provide little
relief – a storm continues to rumble
off track regarding Mercedes'
controversial rear wing.

Despite the FIA clearing the
system which directs air to the front
wing when the DRS overtaking aid
is deployed by the driver, Red Bull
team principal Christian Horner is
still seeking a definitive answer as
to whether the clever trick which increases straight-line speed is legal.

Malaysia Grand Prix

Horner confirmed he has yet to speak to FIA technical director Charlie Whiting.

Horner said: 'I am not the only one who is keen for clarity going forward. It would be good to come out of this weekend with that clarity.'

Kimi Raikkonen has received a five-place grid penalty for tomorrow's race after Lotus had to replace his car's gearbox yesterday. Formula One rules state a driver must use one gearbox for five successive races, with an unscheduled change costing five grid places.

Reflection of talent: German legend Michael Schumacher again had good pace in his Mercedes

Reflection of talent: German legend Michael Schumacher again had good pace in his Mercedes

First practice

1. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 1 minute, 38.021 seconds, 19 laps. 2. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1:38.535, 21. 3. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:38.813, 21. 4. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, 1:38.826, 19. 5. Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:38.919, 17. 6. Mark Webber, Red Bull, 1:39.092, 20. 7. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, 1:39.128, 22. 8. Paul di Resta, Force India, 1:39.298, 23. 9. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:39.323, 15. 10. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:39.440, 19. 11. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:39.724, 23. 12. Pastor Maldonado, Williams, 1:39.783, 23. 13. Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 1:39.896, 16. 14. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, 1:39.910, 21. 15. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1:39.980, 23. 16. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:40.099, 23. 17. Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham, 1:40.247, 19. 18. Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso, 1:40.469,23. 19. Vitaly Petrov, Caterham, 1:40.857, 25. 20. Sergio Perez, Sauber, 1:41.085, 23. 21. Timo Glock, Marussia, 1:43.170, 18. 22. Charles Pic, Marussia, 1:44.580, 14. 23. Narain Karthikeyan, HRT, 1:45.360, 8. 24. Pedro de la Rosa, HRT, 1:45.528, 18.

Second practice

1. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 1 minute, 38.172 seconds, 28 laps. 2. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, 1:38.533, 34. 3. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:38.535, 30. 4. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:38.696, 34. 5. Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso, 1:38.853, 33. 6. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1:38.891, 27. 7. Mark Webber, Red Bull, 1:39.133, 29. 8. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:39.297, 33. 9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:39.311, 22. 10. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1:39.402, 25. 11. Pastor Maldonado, Williams, 1:39.444, 35. 12. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:39.464, 26. 13. Paul di Resta, Force India, 1:39.625, 20. 14. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, 1:39.687, 16. 15. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, 1:39.696, 29. 16. Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 1:40.271, 28. 17. Bruno Senna, Williams, 1:40.678, 34. 18. Sergio Perez, Sauber, 1:40.947, 33. 19. Vitaly Petrov, Caterham, 1:41.464, 25. 20. Timo Glock, Marussia, 1:41.681, 20. 21. Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham, 1:42.594, 19. 22. Charles Pic, Marussia, 1:42.874, 24. 23. Narain Karthikeyan, HRT, 1:43.658, 18. 24. Pedro de la Rosa, HRT, 1:43.823, 22.