Kimi Raikkonen gave yet another indication that his testing and Melbourne pace was no mirage by topping the timesheets at the end of day one at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Having tailed Mark Webber by a matter of hundredths in the first 90-minute session, the Finn went one better and posted the fastest time of the day in the second outing, despite it being interrupted by rain with 50 minutes remaining. His 1min 36.569secs effort, set before the conditions deteriorated, was half a second better than he had managed in the morning session, and was just enough to edge out Sebastian Vettel after the reigning world champion had earlier improved the benchmark to 1min 36.588secs. Raikkonen also looked good on both Pirelli compound, suggesting that Lotus could be in the mix for success again this weekend.
With Felipe Massa also getting to within a tenth of the pace, Webber had to settle for fourth on the combined timesheets, his first session lap good enough to see off Fernando Alonso's improvement by 0.05secs. The Australian was one of four drivers not to go faster in the afternoon, but the others – Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas at Williams and Caterham's Giedo van der Garde – were all at the other end of the order.
Behind Alonso, Romain Grosjean backed up team-mate Raikkonen in sixth spot, with Nico Rosberg, Paul di Resta, Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Sutil rounding out the top ten in Mercedes/Force India formation. Sutil, however, was denied the chance to improve his early session time after gremlins attacked his VJM06, while Rosberg and Hamilton concentrated more on long runs, and so weren't running at optimum pace.
Despite Sutil's problems, Force India again out-gunned McLaren, where Sergio Perez edged Jenson Button by a couple of hundredths as they filled eleventh and twelfth positions overall. The Briton, however, reported that the ride from his MP4-28 was 'much better', giving the Woking squad some encouragement after a disastrous Australian weekend.
Another couple of tenths separated McLaren from Sauber, where Nico Hulkenberg escaped a spin in the pit-lane entry to get the better of rookie team-mate Esteban Gutierrez by a comfortable six tenths. In fairness to the Mexican, however, he suffered a litany of problems, with two fire extinguishers going off in the cockpit between mechanical problems at either end of the session.
Williams and Toro Rosso were next up, with Maldonado between Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo on the FP2 list, but Bottas found himself usurped by the best of the expected backmarkers, as Bottas slipped behind Jules Bianchi, the Frenchman again impressive in the best of the Marussias. The Finn's morning time was enough to ensure normality reigned on the combined times, but Bianchi had again served notice that he maybe deserves to be in a better car.
Giedo van der Garde, who had led 'division three' in FP1, slipped behind Caterham team-mate Charles Pic in the afternoon session, but emerged on top overall thanks to his morning effort. Max Chilton brought up the rear in both sessions, and was seven-tenths adrift of Pic on the combined order after struggling with the effects of extreme tyre wear.