By Andrew Benson
Lewis Hamilton was in convincing form as he headed Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in second practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The world champion was 0.223 seconds quicker than Rosberg, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel 0.661secs off in third ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fifth fastest ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
It was a welcome return to form for Hamilton after a poor last race.
Hamilton finished third in Singapore two weeks ago as Rosberg won, losing the championship lead for the first time since taking it in July and dropping eight points behind Rosberg with six races to go heading into this weekend on the demanding Sepang track.
After an inconclusive first practice session that was hard to read, the Briton was on impressive form in second practice.
As well as being fastest on the qualifying simulation runs on the softest tyre, Hamilton also set the pace throughout the first part of the session, by 0.399secs despite using the hard tyre while Rosberg was on the medium.
Behind the Mercedes, Ferrari seemed to have an edge on Red Bull as the two teams continue their battle to end the season second in the championship – Vettel was 0.432secs quicker than Verstappen.
Alonso’s position in seventh place was a surprise fillip for McLaren.
The Spaniard was using an upgraded Honda power-unit, with a lighter block and redesigned exhaust, aimed at improving the car’s qualifying performance.
Stop… Hammertime: The three-time world champion was soundly beaten by Rosberg in Singapore
The development is aimed at Honda’s home race in Japan next weekend but has been introduced in Malaysia because taking it means a 30-place grid penalty for Alonso for using too many engine parts.
The plan at this stage is to revert to an older-spec engine for the rest of this weekend.
Team-mate Jenson Button, who will not have the new engine until the US Grand Prix in two races time at the earliest because Honda does not want grid penalties at Suzuka, was 10th fastest after being held up on his fastest lap by Renault’s Kevin Magnussen.
Magnussen was playing catch-up after losing the entire first session following a fire in the pits as a result of a problem with a fuel breather pipe.
The Dane ended up 19th fastest, seven places and 0.7secs slower than team-mate Jolyon Palmer.