Tyre explosion mars Malaysia Grand Prix practice

Formula One officials launched an inspection of every drain cover at the Sepang circuit yesterday after Romain Grosjean suffered a frightening tyre explosion during Malaysian Grand Prix practice.

On a day when Sebastian Vettel smashed the all-time Sepang lap record, the tyre explosion brought track proceedings to a standstill.

A drain grille, which should have been welded down securely, popped up at a kerb on turn nine after Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari drove over it.

A few seconds later, Grosjean hit the same spot at more than 200kmh, with disastrous effect.

The impact instantly ripped his right rear tyre from its rim and threw his Haas into the barriers.

Fortunately, Grosjean walked away unscathed and declared "I'm all right", as the second practice session was red-flagged with 20 minutes left with a gaping hole left in the track.

"I've just seen the footage. I didn't see anything," Grosjean said.

"The next thing I knew was that the car was not there any more. It was just spinning and heading for the wall."

Race director Charlie Whiting said that the cover had been welded down, but had broken loose and would be replaced.

Asked if that meant his crew had to inspect and repair every drain cover on the 5.543km layout, Whiting said: "Yes. For the rest of the day, we shall concentrate on that.

"They've been welded a long time I expect. So we shall re-weld where necessary and then tonight we shall check everything. We have to get it fixed for tomorrow."

In the same session, Vettel clocked 1min 31.261sec on his qualifying simulation run to smash the old record of 1:32.50 set by Fernando Alonso in 2005.

Vettel's Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was second, six-tenths of a second adrift.

The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were third and fourth on a frustrating day for Mercedes' championship leader, Lewis Hamilton who was only sixth fastest with Valtteri Bottas seventh, setting the stage for an interesting qualifying session for the final Malaysia Grand Prix.

Sepang circuit CEO Razlan Razali said yesterday that the Malaysia GP, Asia's second-oldest race after Japan, will not return for the next five years at least. He said: "This is definitely... 200 per cent our last Grand Prix."

Meanwhile, F1 announced yesterday that China will continue to host a Grand Prix in Shanghai for at least three more years. - AFP

Formula 1