Formula One: Old foe emerges as Mercedes’ Malaysia rival

With the dust settled on the opening practice sessions for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Formula One teams will now be furiously taking stock of what shape they and their rivals are in. And for Mercedes, they’ll be keeping a closer eye on Ferrari from here on.

Before the 22 cars took to Friday’s opening warm-up, Red Bull were largely tipped as the Silver Arrows’ most likely foe, but it appears the Scuderia may be making a resurgence.

As Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton each topped one of today’s timesheets, Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel – winner in Malaysia last year – and Kimi Raikkonen were next up in third and fourth.

The Italian squad comfortably had the beating of Red Bull, and on long runs it appears Vettel in particular may be able to hold a candle to Mercedes.

It was excellent long run pace which saw the four-time champion triumph in Sepang last year to claim his first win with the famous red team.

And Vettel will be fully aware, that with Hamilton and Rosberg locked in a battle for the championship, each has plenty to lose.

That’s not the case for the German, who simply must find a way to win one of the remaining six races, or face the prospect of only the second winless season of his career.

So should Vettel find himself wheel-to-wheel with a Mercedes on Sunday, it can be expected that the Ferrari won’t be the one to back off.

Hamilton is 5/6 favourite for the race with Rosberg at 13/8, but it’s Vettel next best in the betting now at 11/1.

Daniel Ricciardo has slipped from 8/1 to 12s following a lack of pace today, with team-mate Max Verstappen at 14s.

Raikkonen – who hasn’t once since March 2013, is possibly worth an each-way shout at 28/1.

With thunderstorms forecast for the remainder of the weekend, Hamilton and Rosberg have plenty to worry about, but now it seems they may have a very familiar face to deal with too.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing