Sebastian Vettel has edged out Lewis Hamilton for pole position at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix in an exciting qualifying session that gave fans a great battle between both Red Bull and McLaren drivers: Mark Webber and Jenson Button will start from the second row of the grid.
Fifth-fastest driver Fernando Alonso wound up almost a second adrift of the leading quartet – the top-five of the Sepang grid is exactly the same as that of the Australian Grand Prix a fortnight earlier.
Hamilton had initially held pole position with a stunning Q3 lap of 1:35.000 to put himself 0.1 seconds ahead of Vettel, but a change of tyres saw the four main contenders come out for another crack at pole in the dying minutes. Button, Webber and Hamilton all improved their times, and then Vettel pulled out all stops with an outstanding 1:34.870 to take pole by just 0.104 seconds.
The remaining runners in Q3 knew they had no hope of pole, and instead opted for a single qualifying run, with Fernando Alonso taking his Ferrari to fifth place, while Nick Heidfeld brought his Renault sixth place on the grid in his first Q3 appearance this season.
Row 4 will see the sister Ferrari and Renault of Felipe Massa and Vitaly Petrov respectively line up alongside each other, while Nico Rosberg and Kamui Kobayashi rounded out the top ten on the grid.
Starting eleventh once again is Michael Schumacher, who found himself bundled out of a possible Q3 berth with just seconds to go, ironically at the hand of his team-mate Rosberg, who posted a time fractionally quicker to get himself into the final shoot-out.
Despite not making it into Q3 this time, the Toro Rosso Ferraris qualified well up the order, with Sébastien Buemi edging out team-mate Jaime Alguersuari for 12th place on the grid. Buemi had a scare in Q1 when a large chunk of bodywork flew off his STR6, which also caused a momentary red flag while the debris was removed from the circuit.
Force India had a marginally improved qualifying session in comparison to Australia, although rookie driver Paul di Resta (14th) once again outqualified team-mate Adrian Sutil (17th). The pair sandwiches Rubens Barrichello and Sergio Pérez, who both had difficult sessions for Williams and Sauber, respectively.
In what was a poor day all round for Williams, Pastor Maldonado found himself knocked out in the first phase of qualifying along with the usual suspects of the six ‘sophomore team’ drivers from Team Lotus, Virgin Racing and HRT.
But Lotus could take plenty of pride on two counts: not only blitzing main rivals Virgin Racing by over two seconds in qualifying, but also because Heikki Kovalainen was just 0.4 seconds off getting into Q2 on merit. There were certainly quite big smiles in team boss Tony Fernandes’ camp at the end of the session.
And at the bottom of the timesheets, HRT also had plenty of reason to smile when both Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan was able to qualify for tomorrow’s race – Karthikeyan was almost a full second quicker than the 107% threshold.
Certainly fewer were expecting that McLaren would have been able to take the fight so comprehensively to Red Bull Racing this weekend, but it will definitely make for a very interesting and closely-fought race tomorrow if today is any indication.
One this is for certain is that – unlike most Hermann Tilke circuits – this is not a track where pole position gives any greater assurance of a race win. Only once in the last four years has the pole-sitter actually won here, while Vettel has managed to convert his last four poles into wins.
2011 Malaysian Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault||1:37.468||1:35.934||1:34.870|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes||1:36.861||1:35.852||1:34.974|
|3.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault||1:37.924||1:36.080||1:35.179|
|4.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes||1:37.033||1:36.569||1:35.200|
|9.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP||1:37.316||1:36.388||1:36.809|
|10.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari||1:36.994||1:36.691||1:36.820|
|11.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP||1:36.904||1:37.035|
|12.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso Ferrari||1:37.693||1:37.160|
|13.||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso Ferrari||1:37.677||1:37.347|
|14.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes||1:38.045||1:37.370|
|15.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth||1:38.163||1:37.496|
|16.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari||1:37.759||1:37.528|
|17.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes||1:37.693||1:37.593|
|18.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Cosworth||1:38.276|
|19.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus Renault||1:38.645|
|20.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus Renault||1:38.791|
|21.||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing Cosworth||1:40.648|
|22.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth||1:41.549|
|23.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Cosworth||1:41.549|
|24.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT F1 Cosworth||1:42.574|