It was a difficult Friday for Haas F1 Team at Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur as the American outfit prepared for the Malaysian Grand Prix Sunday.
The first of two 90-minute practice sessions on the 5.543-kilometer (3.444-mile), 15-turn track took place in wet conditions. This drastically impacted the team’s running time, with Romain Grosjean recording only eight laps and Antonio Giovinazzi turning just six laps as the start of the opening session was delayed by 30 minutes.
Giovinazzi, the third driver for Scuderia Ferrari, took the wheel of the Haas VF-17 in FP1 for the fourth time this season. The 23-year-old from Martina Franca, Italy, drove in place of regular driver Kevin Magnussen, who relinquished his seat for Giovinazzi to gain some additional Formula One experience.
Gaining that additional experience was muted by the rain, with Giovinazzi having to start on the Pirelli Cinturato Blue full wet tire before switching to the Green intermediate tire for a five-lap run. Giovinazzi set a quick time of 1:56.339 on his sixth tour that placed him 19th overall. Grosjean also began on the Blue full wet tire by running a single lap before making seven laps on the Green intermediate tire. His best time was a 1:56.211 on his seventh lap that placed him just ahead of Giovinazzi in 18th.
Leading the way in FP1 was Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, whose fast lap of 1:48.962 was .757 of a second better than teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
The rain abated for FP2, raising expectations that dry running would allow for significantly increased track time and some robust data acquisition. Instead, Grosjean and Magnussen dealt with understeer issues on both of their racecars.
Making the day worse for Grosjean was a heavy crash with 20 minutes left in the session, caused when a loose drain cover on the apex of the right-hand turn 13 shredded the right-rear tire on his Haas VF-17. This immediately sent Grosjean spinning off the track and into the barrier on the outside of the corner. Grosjean walked away unscathed, but his racecar sustained significant damage.
Prior to the crash, Grosjean recorded 18 laps with his best time coming on his eighth lap – a 1:34.118 set on Yellow soft tires. Magnussen tallied 17 laps with his best time coming on his 15th tour – a 1:34.343 earned on Red supersoft tires.
Grosjean’s accident brought out the red flag, and with no immediate fix for the exposed drain, the session was not restarted.
Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was quickest in FP2 with his lap of 1:31.261 being .604 of a second better than teammate Kimi Räikkönen. Vettel’s fast lap also set a new track record, bettering the previous mark of 1:32.582 set by Fernando Alonso during qualifying for the 2005 Malaysian Gran Prix when he was with Renault.
Between FP1 and FP2, Haas F1 Team ran a total of 49 laps – 26 by Grosjean, 17 by Magnussen and six by Giovinazzi.
“I think we’ve learned quite a lot today. It was wet in the morning and dry in the afternoon, so we had both running. I think the competitiveness on soft tires was really good. We suffered a little bit on supersofts, but we’re going to work around that. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much long running due to the drain coming out and the crash. That ended our day. I think there are some positives. We’ve made some changes on the car that worked pretty well. I’m feeling sorry for the boys, as they’ve got to work hard to repair the car, but I know they will do it and in a good way. We’ll try to find some key element on the setup to make us go fast tomorrow. I think the boys can do it. I’m looking forward to enjoying some more laps around Sepang.”
“It’s not ideal that everyone else has done a session in the wet now. If it rains, I’ll be behind, clearly, but I’ll get around it somehow. The car handles alright in the wet. The wets and the inters are different to the previous generation of tires. We’re still learning a lot but, generally, the feeling is OK. We were looking OK on the softs. I was feeling good with the car. Then we put the supersofts on and we lost some performance, especially on the front. We’ll work on that for tomorrow and, hopefully, find a solution.”