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Mercedes left seeking answers after ‘difficult’ Malaysia F1 practice

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Mercedes Formula 1 drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were both left seeking answers for their lack of pace during Friday’s practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix, having been tipped to dominate heading into the weekend.

Hamilton opened up a 28-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship two weeks ago in Singapore, with the maths involved in delivering a fourth world title already being worked out with six races to go.

Mercedes was expected to dominate at Sepang given the fast-flowing nature of the circuit, only for Ferrari to upstage the Silver Arrows and finish over a second clear in FP2 on Friday.

Hamilton finished FP2 sixth-fastest ahead of Bottas in seventh, with both trailing McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton and Bottas both had off-track excursions and struggled with an overall lack of grip, leaving them uneasy about their chances heading into the rest of the weekend.

“It’s been a very difficult day,” Hamilton admitted.

“I’ve been struggling with the car today, so we have to review and try to understand where we have gone wrong with the balance.

“We’re hoping that we’re able to find our bearings overnight and regroup for tomorrow.”

Bottas added: “Those were obviously tricky practice sessions. We had quite limited running because of the rain in the morning. I also had a bit of an off in FP2 that cost us some time, we lost a few laps because of that. And then there was of course the red flag in the end.

“We didn’t get all the test items tested today, but I think that is going to be the case with all the teams. We’re definitely lacking some performance, it seems like Ferrari and Red Bull are very strong. So we have some work to do if we want to be on the front row tomorrow.

“The car balance itself didn’t feel too bad; it’s just a question of overall grip. The key area we are going to need to focus on tonight will be getting the maximum out of the tires over one lap.”

Running continues in Malaysia on Saturday with FP3 (2am ET, NBC Sports app) followed by qualifying (5am ET, NBCSN).

F1 2017 driver review: Kevin Magnussen

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Kevin Magnussen

Team: Haas
Car No.: 20
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P7 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 19
Championship Position: 14th

Kevin Magnussen’s move to Haas proved to be a win-win situation for both parties through 2017 as they banished the struggles of the previous Formula 1 season.

For Magnussen, the move came after a difficult one-season stint with Renault who despite offering him a way back into F1 after a year on the sidelines were unable to produce a car allowing the Dane to fight far up the order.

Haas had not expected to be able to be that much further ahead, but Magnussen nevertheless immediately offered an uplift in performance after replacing Esteban Gutierrez, who failed to score a single point through 2016.

Magnussen picked up Haas’ first points of the season with a solid drive in China, and was able to capitalize on the bonkers Baku race to take P7, which would ultimately be his best result of the season.

Consistency was a real issue for Haas throughout the year as it continued to have teething problems most new teams encounter, and while Magnussen was more able to drive around the problems than teammate Romain Grosjean, he lacked the ultimate pace of his teammate.

That said, Magnussen’s season highlight came in Mexico, a track Haas expected to be its worst of the season. The ex-McLaren driver qualified on the last row but produced a stunning display to finish eighth, soaking up pressure from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton late on.

The signs are positive moving forward. Next year should be Haas’ best yet thanks to the stability in the regulations, presenting a good opportunity for Magnussen to prove his star quality.

Season High: Taking P8 in Mexico when Haas expected to be slowest.

Season Low: Lagging home P15 at Spa as Grosjean hit the points.