By: Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
In the closing seconds of Q3 for the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was a battle of the titans, as the front-runners from last year’s Formula One season, continued their form into the second race weekend of 2011. As the clock was ticking down the top four drivers swapped positions several times, with it still looking open as to who might clinch pole. However, Sebastian Vettel was the man of the day and proved unstoppable, as he stormed through to take the top spot.
The Red Bull driver seemed very pleased with the way he achieved his 17th career pole position, and to set an impressive lap time of 1min34.870secs in the process.
“In qualifying everything worked out straight away. It was very close in the end with the McLaren guys, so I’m happy to get pole. Big compliments to the guys in the team - especially those working on KERS, they did a lot of work since Australia. If we wouldn’t have had it today, we wouldn’t be sitting here now, neither me nor Mark, so compliments to the guys - it’s a good reward”, commented Vettel.
Lewis Hamilton temporarily had pole, but Vettel made sure it was not for long. The 2008 World Champion consequently, slipped down to second position on the grid in his McLaren.
Next came Mark Webber to take third place in the sister Red Bull, and he was also setting the pace on the track. Jenson Button followed in the second McLaren to secure fourth position. Button did end Q2 in first position ahead of Vettel but lost grip in his tyres, which prevented him from converting his impressive form into pole.
I just wish Q2 had been Q3, but it wasn’t!
“I just wish Q2 had been Q3, but it wasn’t! I had a touch more oversteer in Q3, but that’s the set-up direction I chose to take. The balance was pretty good, but I hurt the tyres a little bit too much in the final sector, and that left me in fourth,” explained Button.
However, the 2009 World Champion did get ahead of the first of the Ferrari’s, which left Fernando Alonso with a fifth place grid slot. The latest addition to the Renault team, Nick Heidfeld, who continues to drive in Robert Kubica’s seat, had a good end to qualifying and landed sixth place. The German was in a Ferrari sandwich though, leaping in front of the Brazilian driver, Felipe Massa, who will start from seventh position on the grid.
After making history at the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago, to become the first ever Russian to step on the podium, Vitaly Petrov, maintained the same flow of success, performance wise in today’s qualifying session. Petrov came across the line in the second Renault, to take eighth position on the grid for tomorrow.
As with the Renault team where it was a veteran with experience versus their team mate on newer territory, it was the same story for the Mercedes boys. The fellow countrymen have re-ignited their battle from last season, where Rosberg often beat his team mate, and seven time World Champion, Michael Schumacher, in qualifying and race results. Rosberg made some last minute progress towards the end of Q2, which saw him knock out Schumacher from the top ten and Q3 session. As a result of this in-team scrap between the German drivers, Rosberg will start the race in ninth place, and Schumacher is just outside the top ten grid slots in 11th position.
The very daring Japanese driver, Kamui Kobayashi, grabbed the final place in the top ten for Sauber. Whereas, his team mate, and rookie in Formula One, Sergio Perez, finished in a disappointing 16th place, unlike his positive debut performance in Australia. The Mexican impressed with a solid first drive round the Albert Park Circuit. However, it is certain that the team as a whole, will hope to overcome their miserable outcome there, whereby they were stripped of points after the race and disqualified. During scrutineering the stewards found that both cars did not meet the required standard. They discovered that the shape and size of the rear wings, were just a few millimetres larger than was permitted.
Other drivers to bow out at the end of Q2 included the Toro Rosso pair. Sebastien Buemi finished ahead of his Spanish team mate to take 12th position, while Jaime Alguersuari will line up on the grid alongside in 13th place.
Of the four newest faces in the paddock this season, Paul di Resta was the next to get a good grid position. The Scotsman will be fairly happy with 14th place, and to know that once again, he out performed his Force India team mate, Adrian Sutil. Meanwhile the German landed himself a few places below in 17th position.
Rubens Barrichello had a disappointing run in his Williams, and could only manage to secure 15th place. His Venezuelan team mate, and third of the rookie line up for this season, Pastor Maldonado, could not improve on his performance either. Maldonado is trailing behind his team mate, to start the race down in 18th position.
The final six cars making up the back of the pack, are all three of last year’s newest teams in Formula One. Following the same fashion for much of the 2010 season, Team Lotus maintained their form in today’s qualifying battle. Both drivers out qualified their closest rivals in the field. The Finnish driver, Heikki Kovalainen jumped ahead though, to take 19th place from his Italian team mate, Jarno Trulli.
The Virgin Racing duo came behind two seconds slower, to secure 21st place for Timo Glock. While his team mate, and the fourth and final fresher in the pack, Jerome d’Ambrosio will start from 22nd position.
To make way for an even more exciting 2011 racing season, the FIA has introduced lots of new rules to contend with and additions to the cars. As well as the use of KERS and DRS, the drivers have to qualify within 107% of the fastest Q1 time. If they do not meet this set time, then the drivers/team will not be permitted to take part in the race. The Australian Grand Prix was the first test, where this ruling was implemented.
The Hispania Racing team were the first casualty, and both drivers lost out on their first race of the new season. Fortunately, luck was on their side today, and both drivers successfully made the grade. The Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi managed to sneak in front of his Indian team mate, Narain Karthikeyan, who returns to the sport after five years, and previously raced for the Jordan team. Liuzzi pipped his team mate to take 23rd place, and Karthikeyan will make his way forward, from the final grid slot in 24th position.
As the second race of the 2011 season gets underway tomorrow, the mix of the rules, tyres ware, and uncertainty of the weather, will be just a few key elements to contend with. Not forgetting their team mates and closest rivals, if today’s closing stages of qualifying are anything to go by, then it certainly makes way for an exciting Malaysian Grand Prix. The reigning World Champion, Vettel, will in particular be the one to watch from the front. His current and Championship rivals from the 2010 season, will not be far behind him though, to ensure he does not have a completely easy ride, as he attempts to get back to back race victories.