Formula One World Championship leader Nico Rosberg set the fastest time of opening practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix in a session that was red-flagged when Kevin Magnussen’s Renault caught fire in the pit lane.
Magnussen had just two installation laps on the board when returned to the garage with a suspected fuel leak. As his car was wheeled back into the car he was suddenly told to jump out as flames burst from the airbox behind his head.
The fire was quickly brought under control but fuel continued to pour from the car and Magnussen’s Renault repeatedly burst into flame until a fuel rig was attached and the remaining fuel was drained from it.
As a result of the problem and with the pit lane covered in extinguisher material the session was red-flagged for 15 minutes.
When the action finally resumed teams quickly set about testing the new track surface and the tyre compounds on offer, with Pirelli adding to its hard and medium compounds by bringing a soft compound specification to the circuit for the first time since 2011.
Across their opening runs there was little to separate Rosberg and Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton but eventually Rosberg, using that soft tyre, extended his advantage to just under half a second. Hamilton, meanwhile, set his best time of the session on the medium tyre.
Rosberg’s session wasn’t entirtely clean, however, and the title leader momentarily lost control at Turn 11 which resulted in a trip across the gravel traps.
Third and fourth on the timesheets respectively were Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. The Ferrari drivers both set their quickest time of the session on soft tyres but were still left with a gap of 1.1s to Rosberg.
Close on the heels of the Ferrari pair was McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard clearly benefited from the upgraded power unit Honda brought to this race, getting to within two tenths of a second of Vettel’s time and the question now is whether his team decide to continue with the unit in the second practice session.
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo took sixth spot on the timesheet ahead of team-mate Max Verstappen. Ricciardo set his best time of the session on the orange-banded soft tyre, while Verstappen’s lap of 1:36.973 came on medium tyres.
In the tight battle for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, Force India, who currently lead Williams by just a single point, drew first blood here with Nico Hulkenberg eighth, just under a tenth of a second ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez. The highest placed Williams was that of Valtteri Bottas who finished 12th. Team-mate Felipe Massa ended the session in P18.
2016 Malaysian Grand Prix – Free Practice One
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.227 25
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:35.721 25
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:36.315 16
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:36.331 18
5 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:36.510 18
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:36.753 27
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:36.973 26
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:37.513 26
9 Sergio Perez Force India 1:37.601 27
10 Jenson Button McLaren 1:37.613 20
11 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:37.847 29
12 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.861 17
13 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:37.886 22
14 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:37.921 20
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:38.055 25
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:38.184 18
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:38.313 20
18 Felipe Massa Williams 1:38.339 24
19 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:39.148 23
20 Esteban Ocon Manor 1:40.036 28
21 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:40.627 26
22 Kevin Magnussen Renault 2