The Malaysian Grand Prix weekend is underway, with the first two practice sessions being run at the Sepang circuit his morning. So who’s staking an early claim for glory at the third round of the 2010 world championship?

© LAT/Autosport

It was the Mercedes-powered cars who dominated practice 1. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button set the first and second fastest times respectively at around the halfway mark, remaining there for much of the session.

Michael Schumacher spent the first hour in the garage but emerged to set the third fastest time. Then, in the dying moments, he was once again beaten by young teammate Nico Rosberg, who split the McLarens and stole 2nd place late on. The top four finished with Hamilton quickest from Rosberg, Button and Schumacher. Cue smug grin from Norbert Haug.

Robert Kubica was next up, the Pole carrying his pace from Australia in to this weekend. Then it was Mark Webber, quickest of the two Red Bulls, Adrian Sutil in the Force India and Bahrain winner Fernando Alonso. It was a quiet first session for both Red Bull and Ferrari, with Webber’s teammate Sebastien Vettel 9th and the second Ferrari of Massa 11th, having made a few unplanned trips through the gravel. There shouldn’t be too many worries for these two teams though, as both have saved their pace for when it matters in the previous two races.

The other notable performances came from Sebastien Buemi, 10th in the Toro Rosso, and Kamui Kobayashi, who was 12th quickest in his Sauber. A disappointing session for Williams though, with Hulkenberg and Barichello only managing 17th and 18th respectively.

Force India once again ran test driver Paul di Resta in practice 1, the Scot completing 25 laps and getting some more valuable F1 experience under his belt. Lotus also fielded a new face, with local boy Fairuz Fauzy getting behind the wheel of their car in place of Heikki Kovalainen. How did the team decide which race driver would miss the session? Simple: Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli flipped a coin. Formula One doesn’t have to be complicated. Fauzy managed 19 laps, ending up 22 fastest.

Can Lewis put his Aussie nightmare behind him this weekend? © Alex Comerford.

A rain shower sent the spectators running for cover between the two sessions, but by the time the cars returned to action the track was dry. It was again Mercedes power that dominated the top of the timing sheets, with one notable exception gatecrashing the party.

Lewis Hamilton was again quickest, the McLaren displaying impressive pace at the Sepang circuit. The battle for top spot began around 45 minutes in to the session. Michael Schumacher went quickest, but only briefly, as Hamilton quickly surpassed his time. Jenson Button then made it a McLaren one-two, before Hamilton pumped in an even quicker lap to cement his position at the top. Nico Rosberg then posted the 2nd fastest time, prompting some worried looking eyes inside the helemt of Schumacher. With half an hour remaining it was again Mercedes-powered cars that had recorded the quickest four times.

As the final half hour approached Sebastien Vettel got involved, first going 5th and then improving to 2nd in his Renault-powered Red Bull. With the teams switching their focus to heavy fuel runs the times didn’t change much before the session’s end, and it was again Hamilton on top, this time from Vettel, Rosberg, Button and Schumacher. Seb was pleased but still wary of his rivals: “the McLarens and the Mercedes look quick and Ferrari have a decent long run pace, so we’ll have to see where we are”. Nonetheless the Mercedes monopoly was broken, and it came as no surprise that Vettel was the man to break it.

But the Merc monopoly wasn’t the only thing broken in practice 2. Mark Webber slowed and coasted in to the gravel half an hour in to the session; “it was the engine,” the Aussie later confirmed. A Red Bull with reliability issues? Surely not! That was the session over for Mark and the term ‘fast but fragile‘ was again being whispered up and down the pitlane. His missed track time will hurt, but the worry that the Red Bulls are beset with realiability issues will be giving the team more headaches tonight.

Vettel got among the Mercedes-powered cars, but can the Red Bulls go the distance? © Alex Comerford.

You’d be right to wonder where the Ferraris were in all this. They were focusing on long runs on the softer tyres, clearly more concerned with Sunday’s race than setting quickest laps. Fernando Alonso clocked the 7th fastest time whilst teammate Felipe Massa was way down in 15th, but the Scuderia will no doubt be back among the frontrunners come qualifying.

Robert Kubica impressed again for Renault, 6th fastest in the second session, as did Sebastien Buemi, the Swiss driver recording the 8th best time. Williams again struggled, with Barichello 16th and Hulkenberg 17th, whilst in the battle of the new boys Lotus again looked on top, both of their cars beating both the Virgin and HRT teams comfortably.

There were off-track excursions in practice 2 for Adrian Sutil Kamui Kobayahshi, Bruno Senna and the Toro Rossos of Buemi and Aluersuari as the drivers searched for the limit at the Sepang circuit, but no major dramas as all managed to return to the track.

So overall it’s looking good for Hamilton, with two session topping times suggesting he’s got the speed this weekend. Vettel’s lap in the second session will be a warning to his rivals that the young German is in good shape for yet another pole position, though questions long his car will last remains.

With all of this in mind you might fancy making a few tweaks to you Fantasy Grand Prix team and predictions for this weekend. Maybe Lewis is a good bet for pole, or perhaps the Ferraris dedication to long runs makes them a good shout for the race victory. Right now we can only guess, but you can be sure that Badger will keep you up to date with all the action, both on and off the track, from this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.