Sebastian Vettel leaves the Ferrari garage on his way to the fastest lap ever of the Sepang circuit. Picture: Vincent Thian / AP

Sepang, Malaysia - Sebastian Vettel went fastest ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen as Ferrari set the pace on the opening day of Malaysian Grand Prix practice on Friday.

Vettel’s time of 1m31.261s, the fastest yet around the 5.543km Sepang circuit, was set in the second 90-minute session in the afternoon, which was brought to an early halt after a loose drain cover caused a heavy crash for Romain Grosjean.

Vettel had been fifth quickest in the rain-hit opening session - but his championship-leading title rival Lewis Hamilton was only sixth fastest in the afternoon, as he had been in the first session, ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas with both Mercedes drivers reporting a general lack of grip. Ferrari’s Friday display and Mercedes’ struggles will be welcomed by Vettel who trails Hamilton by 28 points in the overall standings with six races left.

A record four-times winner in Malaysia, Vettel desperately needs a fifth victory after his title hopes were dealt a severe blow at the previous race in Singapore, where he crashed out on the opening lap to clear the way for Hamilton to win.

Ricciardo led morning 1-2

Daniel Ricciardo, who led a one-two with team-mate Max Verstappen in the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, ended the day third fastest ahead of Verstappen, who'll turn 20 on Saturday, and who finished Friday’s opening session fastest, ahead of the Australian.

Fernando Alonso, who vaulted up the order on a rapidly drying track to end the first session third, was an impressive fifth for McLaren. Sergio Perez in the Force India was eighth ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and team mate Esteban Ocon who rounded out the top 10.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly, making his Formula One debut this weekend after being drafted in as a replacement for under-performing Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso, was 15th fastest. Gasly, being evaluated as a permanent replacement for Renault-bound Carlos Sainz for next season, outpaced Sainz, who was 16th.

Marshals load Romain Grosjean's Haas onto a recovery vehicle after he crashed out in Turn 14. Picture: Thomas Lam / AP

Shortened sessions

Neither of Friday’s two sessions ran to their full 90-minute length.

The morning session was delayed by half an hour due to a tropical downpour that lashed the track minutes before its scheduled start.Grosjean’s crash in the afternoon brought out the red flags with 22 minutes of the session left.

The Frenchman hit the loose drain cover with his right rear tyre, which exploded upon impact and pitched his Haas into the barriers.The session was not restarted, with Formula One race director Charlie Whiting driving out in the safety car to inspect the damaged drain.

Results

1 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari - 1:31.261

2 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari - 1:31.865

3 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull - 1:32.099

4 Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull - 1:32.109

5 Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren - 1:32.564

6 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes - 1:32.677

7 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes - 1:32.720

8 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India - 1:32.862

9 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Renault - 1:33.060

10 Esteban Ocon (France) Force India - 1:33.096

11 Jolyon Palmer (Britain) Renault - 1:33.381

12 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams - 1:33.394

13 Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium) McLaren - 1:33.673

14 Lance Stroll (Canada) Williams - 1:33.818

15 Pierre Gasly (France) Toro Rosso - 1:34.043

16 Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso - 1:34.104

17 Romain Grosjean (France) Haas - 1:34.118

18 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) Haas - 1:34.343

19 Pascal Wehrlein (Germany) Sauber - 1:35.246

20 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber - 1:35.697

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