Sepang: McLaren`s Lewis Hamilton needed less than an hour of the first free practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Friday to show that he will be one of the favourites for this weekend`s race.
The 2008 world champion scorched to the fastest time of the 90-minute session on a glorious sunny morning south of the Malaysian capital, clocking one minute, 38.021 seconds to beat the rest of the field by more than half a second.
World champion Sebastian Vettel was second fastest with a time of 1:38.535, marginally ahead of the Mercedes pair Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, who were separated by just 13 hundredths of a second.
The drivers used the session to gauge tyre degradation around the demanding Sepang circuit and with times slowing by around a second after 10 laps, pit stop strategy for Sunday`s race will be a key factor in determining the eventual winner.
McLaren locked up the front row in the season-opening race in Melbourne last week, with Hamilton`s team mate Jenson Button going on to win comfortably, but the Briton had a far bumpier ride in Malaysia on Friday morning.
The 2009 world champion, who won at the circuit in the same year, struggled with an oil leak that limited his session to just 15 laps in which he could only post the ninth-fasted time, 1.302 seconds behind his team mate.
Romain Grosjean proved his third place on the grid in Australia was no fluke with another strong showing in his Lotus, the Frenchman overcoming early problems with his rear wing to clock the fifth-fastest time, 0.898 seconds off the pace.
Vettel`s Red Bull team mate Mark Webber was sixth quickest, a little over a second behind Hamilton, with former world champion Kimi Raikkonen rounding out the top seven places in the second Lotus.
Ferrari`s early season woes continued as Felipe Massa, fitted with a brand new chassis, could only manage the 13th fastest time with team mate Fernando Alonso crawling around two places further down the field.
Both cars were more than two seconds adrift of Hamilton.
HRT are in danger of missing out on Sunday`s race as they did last week with Narain Karthikeyan, who only managed eight laps before stopping with a hydraulics failure, and Pedro de la Rosa lapping more than seven seconds off the pace.
Both cars set times marginally outside than the 107 percent time limit behind the leader that if they duplicated in qualifying on Saturday would omit them from the grid.