Raikkonen quickest ahead of the rain in FP2

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Kimi Raikkonen managed to set the quickest time during the second Free Practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix before heavy rain hit Sepang with around 45 minutes to go.

The Lotus driver edged out Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa, both of whom finished within one-tenth of Raikkonen, as Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus continue to show good pace at the start of the season.

Rain clouds were forming above the Sepang International Circuit just as the session started, and many of the teams opted to get out early on the dry compounds. The high tire wear experienced in FP1 persisted, with Sebastian Vettel and Max Chilton both flat-spotting their Pirellis.

Soon after Raikkonen went quickest, the rain began to fall, and although some drivers tried to continue on their dry tires, conditions only worsened. Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez all spun before moving onto intermediate tires.

Many of the drivers decided to stay in the pits once the rain came, but some decided to get used to the wet conditions. Thunderstorms are forecast for the rest of the race weekend, meaning that any wet running could be precious to the teams.

The rain did subside towards the end of the session, and although the entire field opted to give the dry tires another run, no-one could better Raikkonen’s time at the top.

Lotus will be pleased to have shown that their Australia pace was no fluke, and Raikkonen will undoubtedly be hoping for a dry race on Sunday in order to maximize the potential of the E21. The results do suggest that Ferrari and Red Bull will be close at the front though, and a sprinkling of rain could bring the likes of Mercedes and Force India into the running.

Free Practice 2 – Classification

1 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:36.569

2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:36.588 +0.019

3 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.661 +0.092

4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:36.985 +0.416

5 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:37.026 +0.457

6 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.206 +0.637

7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.448 +0.879

8 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:37.571 +1.002

9 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.574 +1.005

10 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:37.788 +1.219

11 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.838 +1.269

12 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.865 +1.296

13 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.068 +1.499

14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.645 +2.076

15 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:38.738 +2.169

16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:38.801 +2.232

17 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.904 +2.335

18 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.508 +2.939

19 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:39.660 +3.091

20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:40.757 +4.188

21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:40.768 +4.199

22 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:41.438 +4.869

Schmidt Peterson confirms all-Canadian lineup of Hinchcliffe, Wickens

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The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is going for a diet of denim, maple syrup, pace and politeness in its 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup, with an all-Canadian pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens confirmed for next season.

Hinchcliffe was known to want a driver of Wickens’ caliber alongside him in the second seat after three less-than-fruitful seasons with James Jakes (2015), Mikhail Aleshin (2016) and a combination of drivers (Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Harvey) rotated through the second car the last three years.

Recent changes have brought them to this point and now leads them to becoming full-time teammates for the first time in a decade, since the defunct country-focused A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008.

Hinchcliffe has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson after three seasons with the team. His first was shortened due to his near life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident in practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500. A rapid and welcome recovery followed throughout the second half of 2015 before his comeback to action in 2016, with an Indianapolis 500 pole and a couple near-misses on wins that followed. In 2017, he won Round 2 at Long Beach but faltered in the second half of the year through a litany of mechanical woes and bad luck.

Wickens, meanwhile, faced an uncertain future when Mercedes-Benz announced earlier this year it would withdraw from DTM at the end of 2018. One of Hinchcliffe’s long-time friends, Wickens hasn’t raced full-time in North America in more than a decade since they were both in Formula Atlantic in 2007, at separate teams (Wickens at Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe at Sierra Sierra Enterprises). As he pursued his Formula 1 dream and had a wealth of success in the junior series, he never got a proper shot, and has since gone onto several successful years with Mercedes in DTM.

A ride-swap between the two of them came together earlier this year where Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring’s short course, while Hinchcliffe then flew to Italy to sample Wickens’ Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM after the St. Petersburg season opener. Hinchcliffe ended 13th in points in IndyCar, Wickens ninth in DTM this year, both with one win each during the year. Wickens also had a Friday to sample the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Road America this year, but had to relinquish the seat once Aleshin returned from a visa issue.

“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” said Hinchcliffe.

“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.

“I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the SPM organization, from having Robbie here to the team’s new partnership with Honda and the 2018 aero kit; I just can’t wait to get back on track and bring some good results home for the Arrow Electronics crew.”

Wickens added: “This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me.

“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about.

“I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”