Mark Webber again topped the first free practice timesheet of a grand prix weekend, repeating his achievement from Australia as the F1 field moved on to the heat and humidity of Sepang.

The Red Bull driver, who was unable to set the pace thereafter in Melbourne, will have been encouraged by his form, particularly after suggestions that his RB7 had been far from healthy by the end of round one. He clocked a 1min 37.651s late in the dry 90-minute session to further distance himself from the pack, eventually winding up 1.6secs clear of second-placed Lewis Hamilton.

While McLaren will again have been happy to fill the role of main opposition to RBR, Hamilton and the Woking team will no doubt be concerned about the margin of Webber's advantage, even if the second Red Bull of Melbourne winner Sebastian Vettel languished back in 17th position.

Hamilton, too, enjoyed a comfortable cushion back to third place, having lapped half a second faster than Michel Schumacher, who moved into the top three late in the session. The spot had been held by Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado as the session entered its final 20 minutes, but the Venezuelan also found himself demoted by Force India reserve Nico Hulkenberg, who vaulted up the order into fourth.

The younger German headed a tightly-grouped midfield, with everyone down to 15th-placed Jenson Button within a second of the VJM04, and the next three runners - Jarno Trulli, Vettel and Sergio Perez - only a matter of tenths outside. Button had held a top ten slot, but reported a lack of grip from his McLaren, and slid down the order as the team took time out to investigate the problem.

Behind Maldonado, Felipe Massa, Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg completed the top ten, with Adrian Sutil, Daniel Ricciardo, Jaime Alguersuari and Kamui Kobayashi slotting in ahead of Button. Williams would have been encouraged to get both its cars into the leading group, while Ricciardo will no doubt enjoy being ahead of his Toro Rosso team-mate for the second race weekend in succession.

Heidfeld, despite his seventh spot, may not be quite as content, however, after discovering that Lotus Renault team-mate Vitaly Petrov was forced out of the session by an apparent wheel failure after just four laps. Heidfeld had already been confined to the pits after a brake problem jammed his front right and the Russian, who was later spotted with ice on a hand injury, suggested that brakes may have been the cause of his incident.

Petrov was not the only victim of such an incident either, as Marussia Virgin's Jerome d'Ambrosio spun out late in the session after his right front suspension appeared to fail. The Belgian at least avoided the ignominy of being listed behind the two HRTs which, despite completing 30 laps between them - 20 of which were logged by Tonio Liuzzi - were more than a second off the next best runner, 21st-placed Lotus reserve Davide Valsecchi.



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