Motor racing: Raikkonen keeps Ferrari top in final Malaysia practice as Hamilton struggles again

Kimi Raikkonen, who was behind Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari one-two during Friday practice, reversed the finishing positions when he clocked 1min 31.880sec around the Sepang Circuit.
Kimi Raikkonen, who was behind Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari one-two during Friday practice, reversed the finishing positions when he clocked 1min 31.880sec around the Sepang Circuit.PHOTO: AFP

SEPANG, Malaysia (REUTERS) - Kimi Raikkonen deposed Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel at the top of the time sheets in the final practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday, as Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton continued to struggle.

Raikkonen, who was behind Vettel in a Ferrari one-two during Friday practice, reversed the finishing positions when he clocked 1min 31.880sec around the Sepang Circuit.

The Finn's lap was good enough to beat the German by 0.162 of a second but did not top Vettel's record-smashing Friday benchmark.

Hamilton, who leads Vettel by 28 points in the overall standings with six rounds of the 20-race season remaining, could only manage fifth place behind Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Team boss Toto Wolff had said the Brackley-based outfit's car appeared to have a "fundamental issue" after Hamilton was sixth on Friday and the Briton was still struggling for pace a day later, despite briefly topping the times.

It was not exactly a trouble-free session for Vettel, however, with the four-time world champion ending the session crawling slowly back to the pits with a problem, just as he had been gearing up for one last flying lap.

Despite the late difficulty, Mercedes' woes will still have encouraged the 30-year-old ahead of Saturday afternoon's qualifying session.

Australia's Ricciardo, who won in Malaysia last year ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen, finished in front of the Dutchman again, who was sixth fastest on his 20th birthday.

Verstappen is one of the most exciting drivers on the grid and he added some drama to an otherwise straightforward session in sunny conditions when he collided with Renault's Jolyon Palmer in the dying stages. Both drivers blamed each other.

Sergio Perez was seventh, ahead of Williams' Felipe Massa and his Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon, while McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne pipped team-mate Fernando Alonso to round out the top 10.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly, drafted in as a replacement for under-performing Russian Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso, limbered up for his first Formula One qualifying session with the 16th-fastest time, one place behind team mate Carlos Sainz.