Hamilton sets fastest lap in Malaysia to lay down marker in battle with Rosberg

General

Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend to lay down the gauntlet to Nico Rosberg ahead of Saturday’s crucial qualifying session.Hamilton has fallen eight points behind Rosberg in the championship race after seeing his Mercedes team-mate saunter to victory in each of the last three grands prix, including a crushing win last time out in Singapore.But the world champion, who was also quickest here on Friday, delivered a timely reminder of his raw pace in final practice at the Sepang International Circuit to finish more than half-a-second clear of the German.Indeed it was Max Verstappen, displaying no signs of the dehydration which led to him collapsing at the back of the Red Bull garage following opening practice on Friday, who finished second in the order.Hamilton’s best lap of one minute and 34.434 seconds was four tenths faster than Verstappen, with Rosberg in third. Kimi Raikkonen was fourth quickest ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel, whose one-hour practice session included a spin at the final corner.McLaren’s motorhome was transformed into a pub – complete with a darts board, beer and pork scratchings – on Friday night to celebrate Jenson Button starting his 300th grand prix.The 36-year-old, who is not racing in the sport next season, finished 12th, nearly two seconds adrift of Hamilton. His McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso will start at the back of the grid on Sunday after serving a penalty for using an updated engine here, and the Spaniard did not bother to post a competitive time this morning.Jolyon Palmer, the British rookie whose future at Renault beyond this season is uncertain, finished an encouraging 14th, two tenths and two places ahead of his team-mate Kevin Magnussen.