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Rosberg sets pace but rivals breathing down his neck


Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg.Photo: AP/Lai Seng Sin

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg.Photo: AP/Lai Seng Sin

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg.Photo: AP/Lai Seng Sin

NICO ROSBERG set the pace today ahead of Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix, but he had a number of rivals breathing down his neck.

Rosberg, who won the season opening Australian Grand Prix a fortnight ago by a comfortable margin, finished quickest at the end of the two 90-minute practice sessions at a steamy Sepang International Circuit.

The early championship pacesetter posted a lap time in his Mercedes of one minute 39.909secs, but with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull's four-time title holder Sebastian Vettel in close attendance.

Raikkonen, appearing strong at this venue where temperatures hit 34 degrees centigrade after a disappointing second debut on his return to Ferrari this season, finished just 0.035secs adrift. As for Vettel, whose race at Melbourne's Albert Park ended after only a handful of laps due to a cylinder failure in the Renault engine, the 26-year-old finished 0.061secs down on German compatriot Rosberg. Lewis Hamilton, who was quickest in the opening session, was down in fourth on the timesheet in his Mercedes, 0.142secs behind Rosberg, and with his car so far holding up.

After starting from pole position in Melbourne, Hamilton completed just two laps prior to his engine also suffering a cylinder failure. Over the intervening period, the team opted to execute a fix rather than going for a change as the engine forms just one component of the power unit this season. Over the course of the campaign only five power units are allowed per driver, beyond which grid penalties start to apply, forcing Mercedes to seek a cure and so not compromise Hamilton later in the year.

Overall, the top six were covered by a fraction over two 10ths of a second, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and former teammate Felipe Massa, now with Williams, also in the mix.

Daniel Ricciardo was 0.367secs down on Rosberg, with a gap then of over three 10ths of a second to McLaren's Jenson Button.