By Patrick Johnston
SEPANG, Malaysia (Reuters) - Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was in a surprisingly positive mood after modifications to his car helped him keep pace with favorites Mercedes during Friday's practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Finn was second in both 90-minute sessions at the steamy Sepang circuit behind Lewis Hamilton and then Nico Rosberg to give him hope of being more competitive in Sunday's race after a disappointing start in Melbourne a fortnight ago.
The 2007 world champion was hit on the first corner in Australia by Kamui Kobayashi's Caterham en route to finishing seventh, almost a minute behind race winner Rosberg.
Raikkonen was 0.035 seconds behind the German in Friday's afternoon session, where he managed to better the times set by Hamilton, world champion Sebastian Vettel and his team mate Fernando Alonso.
"This was definitely a positive day and I had a better feeling compared to Friday in Melbourne," the Finn told reporters.
"I was more comfortable with the F14 today and even if we had no problems whatsoever, we know there's still a long way to go and a lot to do.
"Our programme concentrated on car set-up and on testing the compounds that Pirelli has brought here. The handling seemed to be good."
Raikkonen had dismissed suggestions that his struggles at the Albert Park race were caused by a braking issue.
He said instead that the car would need to be personalized to his liking if he was going to match the successes of his first three-year spell with the Italian team which ended in 2009.
Alonso was 11th fastest before improving to fifth in the second session, 0.194 seconds behind Rosberg.
The Spaniard was more guarded when talking about possibly improving on his fourth-place finish in Melbourne.
"We are on a learning curve, which is not unusual for the start of a championship and, to find out how competitive we are, as usual we will have to wait until Saturday and Sunday," the double world champion said.
"Usually, Friday is a very confusing day, because everyone is working on their own programmes, but this year it's even more the case because of all the new elements.
"Everything went well, with no reliability problems and we managed to do a fair number of laps, enough to get a good understanding of the tires, which will be a very important factor here because of the high temperatures."
(Reporting by Patrick Johnston; editing by Toby Davis)