His Formula One existence having finally come right, Jenson Button on Saturday took pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The 29-year-old Englishman who was the sport's hot item when he entered F1 at age 20 will start first for Brawn GP in...
His Formula One existence having finally come right, Jenson Button on Saturday took pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The 29-year-old Englishman who was the sport's hot item when he entered F1 at age 20 will start first for Brawn GP in Sunday's race at Sepang International Circuit. He won last Sunday's Australian Grand Prix from the same position to double his career victories to two.
Button staved off final-lap lunges from Mark Webber of Red Bull, Nico Rosberg of Williams F1, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, and Jarno Trulli of Toyota for his second consecutive pole of 2009 and fifth of his career. His final time was 1 minute, 35.181 seconds on the 3.44-mile track. He set fastest lap of the day, in second qualifying session, a 1:33.784.
Per track times, Button and Trulli lead the field ahead of Vettel, Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP), Timo Glock (Toyota), Rosberg, Webber, Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber), Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Renault), Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sabuer), Kazuki Nakajima (Williams F1), Sebastien Bourdais (Scuderia Toro Rosso), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Nelson Piquet (Renautl), Giancarlo Fishchella (Force India), Adrian Sutil (Force India), and Sebastien Buemi (Scuderia Toro Rosso). Penalty changes make the lineup: Button, Trulli, Glock, Rosberg, Webber, Kubica, Raikkonen, Barrichello, Alonso, Heidfeld, Nakajima, Hamilton, Vettel, Kovalainen, Bourdais, Massa, Piquet, Fischella, Sutil and Buemi.
Rosberg led final practice before qualifying. Friday's second practice, when Raikkonen and Massa topped the table, was the only one the German has not led this year. Rookie Buemi's hot lap to advance to second qualifying was scuppered when he went off track without enough time in the session for another attempt.
Biggest shock of qualifying was Massa not advancing from the first session of the knock-out system. Massa told the BBC the hard tires weren't working and the team didn't want to "waste" soft tires in the first session. Bridgestone, the sport's only tire supplier, offers four compounds: supersoft, soft, medium and hard. New rules dictate tires for each race must be two compounds apart. Supplied for this race were soft and hard. The hard compound, developed to warm more quickly, was unavailable to teams during winter testing. The soft tires have not been used at Sepang before. Few drivers in the field were racing in the series when slicks, brought back this season after years of grooved tires, were last used in F1.
A report indicated Raikkonen would not use the kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) that is optional this season. The F60's KERS unit apparently melted down Friday morning, leaving the Finn to leap from his car careful not to touch metal; electrocution is a danger with KERS.
Tire troubles and KERS -- the Brawn GP BGP 001s don't carry it -- didn't faze Button, whose beaming smile told all about his current job satisfaction.
"This one's probably more special than in Melbourne because it's not easy to get one pole position," Button said. "But to have two on the trot, I've never achieved that in my F1 career. This is a great feeling, and it shows that the car works on different types of circuit. Y'know, you still have the same sort of issues as when the car is slow; you're just going quicker. You still have issues of understeer, oversteer. And yesterday I was really struggling with the balance of the car. Y'know, I had a lot of rear locking and instablility, which is not ... when I have that it's not my forte, really, I find it difficult to drive round. We changed the car a lot overnight and it's improved it a lot. I feel very, very comfortable in the car, so it makes it exciting for tomorrow."
Trulli, starting to carve out his place at the front, timed his final hot lap perfectly to pip Vettel and reach the front row.
"Hopefully, we'll have a good race and a good fight because this is what we are looking for," Trulli said. "I didn't expect to be here today because, actually, we were struggling, as Jenson would say, probably the track, but I really wasn't comfortable. But we worked out some good setup, analyzing the data, and making good job with the whole team and the engineers, and today we got it right."
Levied a penalty for racing against Kubica in Australia in an incident that crashed them out, Vettel, 21, the sport's current young hot star, was stoic.
"I have the penalty, there's nothing I can do," Vettel said. "The secret is just to focus on what you're here for and we're here to race, so that's what we do. It's a shame to see the car performing at a good level throughout Q1 and Q2, and in Q3 we were more or less up there in the top five, so it's a shame to have plus-10 tomorrow. So it will be, I think, a very tough day for me tomorrow. Looking forward, nothing is impossible. I personally hope for some rain because it can mix up quite a lot."
For a second successive race, organizers imposed a twilight start to a Pacific race to make for a more agreeable start time for television viewers in Europe. In Australia, low sun and track shadows made difficult conditions that saw Trulli go off track near the end of the race and Hamilton pass, an incident that reverberated all week. In Malaysia, twilight typically brings the gully-washing rains known to the tropics.
Like Vettel, Barrichello, the most experienced driver in the series, was racing hard for pole because he was dealt a five-spot grid penalty for needing a new gearbox. Drivers are punished for equipment failures per rules dictating long life in engines and gearboxes.