Lewis Hamilton grabbed his second consecutive pole position of the season at the Malaysian Grand Prix in a closely fought final shootout which saw the top eight cars covered by 0.4 seconds. Hamilton is joined on the front-row by his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, making it consecutive races that they have locked out the front of the grid.
But Hamilton knows only too well that it’s vital that he leads out of the first corner in the race and doesn’t get mugged by Button, as he did in Melbourne.
The threat of the Mercedes was intense throughout the session as Michael Schumacher claimed his first top 3 since 2006. Red Bull found that they were more competitive on the hard tyre than the medium and didn’t have the sweet spot for qualifying.
Mark Webber completed the second row of the grid, although the RB8 race pace is again looking strong as Webber was 0.3 seconds clear in the first part of qualifying on the hard compound tyres. This is the second consecutive race in which Webber has qualified ahead of Sebastian Vettel; the German setting the sixth fastest time, opting to take the hard tyre for his final run. Strategically this gives him more options for tomorrow, as he has saved a new set of medium tyres.
He will begin the race in fifth after Kimi Raikkonen takes his five-place grid penalty for a forced gearbox change. Red Bull’s tactical gamble to split strategies should give both a chance to challenge the front-runners and the long first stint for Vettel on the hard tyre could put him in a good position during the later stints of what is set to be a three-stop race. “Hopefully that will work out. The harder tyre is slightly more durable; it’s just a different strategy,” said Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner.
Before Raikkonen’s penalty we see five World Champions in the top six grid slots. Romain Grosjean and Nico Rosberg were sixth and seventh fastest with the latter forced to do just one flying lap in Q3 as he had to waste a set of tyres in Q2 when Maldonado went off track bringing out yellow flags.
Fernando Alonso put his Ferrari in ninth place, which may allow the Italian squad to breathe a sigh of relief following on from last weeks poor qualifying. However, the gap to the front will be a cause for concern as Alonso was 1.3 seconds off the pace of Hamilton. Felipe Massa showed signs of improvement by qualifying twelfth, moving closer to his team-mate but still missing out on Q3, however a strong showing from Sergio Perez in tenth position is likely to pile even more pressure on the Brazilian who will be starting behind the Williams of Pastor Maldonado that proved a nuisance to Alonso last weekend.
Bruno Senna will start the race in thirteenth ahead of Paul di Resta, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg as the Force India’s and Toro Rosso’s were unable to match last weeks Q3 pace. Kamui Kobayashi had a difficult session, ending up in seventeenth and 0.6 seconds off his Sauber team-mate. Jean Eric Vergne struggled getting to grips with the scorching Malaysia circuit and could not use his Option tyres to their best, also ending up 0.6 seconds behind his team-mate and has the unwanted title of joining the “new” teams towards the back of the grid.
The final six spots on the grid are to be filled by the pairings of Caterham, Marussia and HRT. Caterham were once again well clear of their chasers, but still have work to do if they hope to break into Q2. HRT will be pleased with today’s efforts as they claimed their place on the grid, beating the 107% barrier by 0.3 seconds.
(Additional reporting: Matt Meadows)
MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m36.219s
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1m36.368s + 0.149
3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m36.391s + 0.172
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m36.461s + 0.242
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m36.461s + 0.242 (* 5 place grid penalty)
6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m36.634s + 0.415
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m36.658s + 0.439
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m36.664s + 0.445
9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.566s + 1.347
10. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m37.698s + 1.479
11. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m37.589s + 0.874
12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m37.731s + 1.016
13. Bruno Senna Williams 1m37.841s + 1.126
14. Paul di Resta Force India 1m37.877s + 1.162
15. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m37.883s + 1.168
16. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m37.890s + 1.175
17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m38.069s + 1.354
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m39.077s + 1.905
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m39.306s + 2.134 (* 5 place grid penalty)
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m39.567s + 2.395
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m40.903s + 3.731
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m41.250s + 4.078
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m42.914s + 5.742
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m43.655s + 6.483