Ferrari came away with the third and fourth-fastest times of Friday’s second free practice session but neither driver was willing to get ahead of themselves on qualifying or race pace.
Sebastian Vettel’s time of 1 minute 35.605 seconds was 0.661 seconds off the headline pace set by Lewis Hamilton, and Kimi Räikkönen set a time two-tenths further back.
Red Bull Racing, the Scuderia’s competitor for second in the constructors championship, was a further two-tenths behind Räikkönen.
Ferrari is persisting with its 2016 package despite next season’s regulatory overhaul, including by bringing new parts to the car this weekend.
“I think we had a decent day testing quite a couple of things, so we need to have a look before I can say much,” Vettel said after the session.
Ferrari won the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix 19 months ago in what was its first victory in Formula One’s hybrid era.
That win, at the hands of then new recruit Sebastian Vettel, was credited to Ferrari’s superior use of the tyres in the harsh Malaysian climate, with track temperatures on the day rocketing to around 60°C.
Similar weather was prevalent on Friday, and Vettel was willing to entertain the idea that Ferrari could reap similar benefit this year.
“Historically we seem to do well when it’s warm. Today was quite warm,” he said. “Malaysia is always warm, so in the end we tried to be competitive.
“Our pace didn’t look to bad, at least from what I was told inside the car, so if that’s the name of the game, that hot conditions suit us, the fact that it’s always warm here might be a good thing.”
Kimi Räikkönen endured a more difficult afternoon despite it culminating in a top-four time.
“The feeling inside was quite bad,” he said after struggling for much of the afternoon with set-up. “I was not really happy with how it felt the whole day — not a very smooth day.”
The Finn opted against adding any more to his summary of the sessions.
Vettel remained optimistic, however, that a good weekend could be on the cards.
“I think there’s always a chance to win,” he said before practice. “That’s my conviction, and that’s what I feel like when I’m standing on the grid, that there’s always a chance to win.
“With six races left, our target is to do well in all of them and to try to win all of them, ideally, which is very ambitious, but I think we’ll go race by race and see what we can do.
“Looking at the championship for us, I think it’s more the third position we’re aiming for, plus the main target is to get hold of second again in the constructors.”