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June 23, 2017

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Rosberg, Hamilton reign in F1 opener

SEPANG, Malaysia -- Mercedes underlined their superiority in the new Formula One season as first Lewis Hamilton and then Nico Rosberg led the timings in the Malaysian Grand Prix practice sessions on Friday.

Hamilton topped the first session with his team-mate third, and it was Rosberg, winner of the season-opener in Australia, who took control in the later run-out.

Both drivers carried the message, "#TributeToMH370," on their cars as Malaysia mourns 239 people presumed dead in a disappeared passenger jet. Sunday's race will be preceded by a minute's silence.

"It was crazy conditions out there. In the very, very warm temperatures, it's a huge challenge to get everything right," said championship leader Rosberg.

"The cars are on the edge and the tire degradation was higher than expected today — we are sliding a bit more this year, perhaps because of the reduced downforce levels.

"The quickest teams seem to be closer together than in Australia, so we still have work to do overnight to improve our level of performance."

While Friday practice has little bearing on the race weekend, Mercedes will be pleased to have extended the dominance they showed in Australia — although it was tight at the top in the second session.

Rosberg's time of 1 minute 39.909 was three hundredths ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, with world champion Sebastian Vettel improving to within six hundredths for third spot. The top 11 drivers were all within one second of each other.

Hamilton, who veered off the track in both outings, was fourth in the second session ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, Williams' Felipe Massa, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Jenson Button of McLaren.

"The car feels good and our focus was on trying to understand the tires and make sure the balance is right for the weekend," said Hamilton, the 2008 world champion.

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