Malaysia GP: Vettel jumps clear as Mercedes struggle in eventful Practice 2

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Sebastian Vettel suggested he will be tough to catch if the weather remains dry as the Ferrari driver posted a new lap record to top the timesheets in an eventful Practice 2 at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

That lap record was a 1:31.261s by the German on the Supersoft tyres during the usual mid-session single lap qualifying-style runs before the later race simulation. Vettel ended six-tenths clear of teammate Kimi Raikkonen while Mercedes struggled with Lewis Hamilton 1.4 seconds off the pace in sixth.

After rain in the morning, teams got the chance to run in hot, dry conditions in the afternoon, starting proper setup and tyre work in anticipation of a normal dry race on Sunday.

A lack of grip was apparent, however, as drivers struggled, and it was notably clear that Mercedes was having difficulties more than most when Valtteri Bottas understeered off the track on the approach to Turn 11 before Lewis Hamilton lost the rear minutes later between Turn's 7 and 8, just about managing to escape the gravel in both cases.

The issues are multiple for the teams with a balancing act to be done between optimising performance on the Soft and Supersoft compounds while also remaining in the narrow temperature window that the tyres work best in.

That is where Ferrari appear best, with Vettel and Raikkonen ahead as Red Bull also look relatively competitive with Daniel Ricciardo third and Max Verstappen fourth, despite losing half a second on his best lap in the final sector plus other minor errors.

A surprise fifth was Fernando Alonso in the McLaren, although fuel loads and engine modes will likely see the Spaniard drop back into the midfield battle with Force India and Renault.

Those two teams could fill P8-P11 with Sergio Perez leading Nico Hulkenberg ahead of Esteban Ocon and Jolyon Palmer. Williams looked a little more competitive with Felipe Massa 12th, despite missing the morning due to a hydraulics problem and Lance Stroll 14th with Stoffel Vandoorne in-between them.

The final six saw the two Toro Rosso's lead the two Haas' and two Sauber's. Pierre Gasly would be ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz, who missed the morning as Sean Gelael participated and then complained of a lack of engine drive-ability from his car.

Romain Grosjean would beat Kevin Magnussen but the Frenchman would be the victim of a loose drain cover that was flicked up by Valtteri Bottas on the Turn 12 kerb. Unsighted, he would hit the cover which caused an instant right-rear tyre failure and spun him hard into the wall on the outside of Turn 13.

His accident would cause the session to be abandoned 15 minutes early with work needed to fit a replacement and check the rest of the circuit.

Finally, Pascal Wehrlein would be ahead of Marcus Ericsson, as the Swede made his first appearance of the weekend for Sauber after handing his car to Charles Leclerc in the morning.

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