SEPANG (Malaysia) • Lewis Hamilton yesterday turned the tables on Formula One world championship leader Nico Rosberg, giving himself a badly-needed boost with the fastest lap in second free practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The German has been in dominant form over the past three races, winning them all to turn a 19-point deficit into an eight-point lead in the title race.
But his Mercedes team-mate and reigning world champion Hamilton returned to top form with a lap of the 5.543km Sepang circuit in 1min 34.944sec on his soft-tyre qualifying simulation run, 0.244sec quicker than Rosberg.
With the sun heating the newly-laid track to a blistering 58 deg C, Hamilton proved most adept at getting the best from his tyres in the harsh conditions.
"That was a good day," he said. "Overall a good building block for tomorrow and the rest of the weekend."
Rosberg praised the new track surface and the remodelled final Turn 15, which now has a slope towards the outside of the hairpin bend.
"The new track surface is really enjoyable to drive. Challenging, but with good grip," he said. "Turn 15 is interesting, as you can now try several different lines if you're attacking the guy in front, so that will be good for overtaking."
Ferrari were the next best in the classification, with last year's winner Sebastian Vettel third fastest in 1:35.605 followed by Kimi Raikkonen. Max Verstappen celebrated his 19th birthday by finishing fifth for Red Bull.
In the morning, Kevin Magnussen provided the drama when he was forced to jump out of his Renault after it was engulfed in flames while being wheeled into the garage after just seven minutes of action. Mechanics initially brought the fire under control, but fuel gushing out of the top of the airbox continued to reignite, leaving the vehicle stranded in the pit lane and prompting a 15-minute stoppage.
Renault, who were trying out a new fuel system in preparation for next month's high-altitude Mexican Grand Prix, put the cause down to a leak from the breather.
"Just the heat," a cool and collected Magnussen said after he set the 19th-fastest time. "Everything worked well on the car on the in-lap, so just saw the smoke and hopped out." He added that he had had no indication of any problems as he brought the car into the pits.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
F1 MALAYSIA GRAND PRIX
Practice 3 & qualifying
Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 1.55pm & 4.30pm