Malaysian Grand Prix Qualifying: Hamilton Hangs on for Pole as Vettel splits Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton maintained his perfect qualifying start to the new world championship campaign by the narrowest of margins as on-track squabbling be...
Lewis Hamilton maintained his perfect qualifying start to the new world championship campaign by the narrowest of margins as on-track squabbling between the Mercedes drivers almost allowed Sebastian Vettel to take a sensational top spot for Ferrari.
Hamilton repeated his wet-weather Sepang qualifying form of 12 months ago on his first run on intermediate tyres in a Q3 session that had been delayed by torrential rain at the end of Q2, but failed to improve thereafter. Vettel, though, produced a superb last-gasp run to split the two Mercedes drivers for the second successive year in Malaysia qualifying.
The new Ferrari recruit missed out on top spot by a mere 0.074s as Hamilton and Rosberg were both delayed when they encountered each other on track. Hamilton failed to improve and Rosberg ended up almost four tenths slower than Vettel.
The result ensured a 13th successive pole position for Mercedes and a 40th career pole for the world champion who maintains his perfect start to the new campaign in qualifying.
"I think the first lap was quite good," said Hamilton of his pole-position effort. "It’s always quite good because you go out and none of us have driven this weekend in the wet, so the first lap is always just [heading into] the unknown. You don’t want to take too much risk so that you don’t get the lap but you need a banker. My lap was feeling pretty good. I was pushing. And then the next one was up at one stage but just lost a little bit on the lap."
Vettel, meanwhile, said that with his SF15-T feeling good he feels he will be able to fight for a good result tomorrow.
"The car felt good in both dry and in damp or wet conditions at the end, so reasonably happy. Also, the long runs looked good on practice day so we should be in good shape," he said. "But we know they are difficult to beat but ultimately that’s why everyone turns up, trying to win and we’ll see what we can do tomorrow. Maybe it looks like we are a little bit closer here but we will have to wait and see I guess."
Rosberg, though, was unsurprisingly unhappy with his failure to improve on his final run.
"I just didn’t drive well enough," he said. "I’m annoyed by that. Third place is not good for tomorrow, but that’s the way it is. For tomorrow, third place, it’s on the clean side of the grid, so maybe… or that should definitely help me to get by Sebastian tomorrow in the start."
The typical Sepang deluge which interrupted Q2 and delayed the final top-10 run-off until most of the runners felt confident enough to take the intermediate tyre for their first forays in the final shoot out as Hamilton bettered Rosberg's second fastest time by 1.23s.
With the track drying fast, improvements were expected on the chequered flag laps but only Vettel made the expected leap to make it the same top three starting order as last year.
Daniel Ricciardo leapt up to a second-row start pipping Red Bull team-mate Daniil Kvyat by 0.41s. Sixth in qualifying for his second F1 race was teenage sensation Max Verstappen, equalling his father's best ever qualifying effort at the second attempt.
Verstappen was fourth fastest after the first runs in Q3 and didn't put a wheel wrong throughout a busy qualifying session.
Both Williams drivers opted for full wets at the outset of Q3 and while Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas soon dived to pit lane for inters, they never found the lap time necessary to climb higher than seventh and ninth.
Romain Grosjean also started Q3 on full wets, eventually splitting the Williams cars for the rejuvenated Lotus squad. However, the Frenchman was later demoted two places for a pit lane infringement.
At the back of the top ten in the session but thrilled to have made Q3 on the day he also broke into Q2 for the first time was Marcus Ericsson who showed the value of Sauber's productive winter having recorded seventh fastest time in Q1. Both he and Bottas move up a place on the grid.
The anticipated rain had finally arrived early in Q2 leading to a highly entertaining frantic rush by all 15 drivers to get the single dry lap available to them.
Kimi Raikkonen emerged in the middle of the traffic and was delayed in the hustle to record a dry lap by Marcus Ericsson's Sauber meaning that the 2007 world champion had to make do with 11th, missing out on Q3 by .425s
Pastor Maldonado completed qualifying after Q2, two hundredths of a second behind Raikkonen but almost a second adrift of team mate Grosjean in the hectic scramble for position.
Nico Hulkenberg again edged Force India team mate Sergio Perez in qualifying, this time for 13th with Carlos Sainz 15th and slowest in Q2 and readily admitting to the driving error that prevented further progress.
With the McLarens and Manor F1s locking out the bottom four positions, it was Melbourne hero Felipe Nasr who will have been most disappointed to miss out on a position in Q2, the Sauber driver failing to make the cut by .272s.
Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso have increased performance from the Honda power unit in the back of the McLaren this weekend but it didn't prevent them from being eliminated in Q1, the first time it has happened to the team two races in succession.
In team bragging rights went to Button, whose final flyer on medium tyres displaced Alonso by just over a tenth of a second to secure 17th on the grid.
At the back, Roberto Merhi's best effort was four tenths of a second off Hamilton's top time in Q1 while a fuel pressure problem prevented Will Stevens from running at all so both Manor drivers, who have been within 107% of the best time in different practice sessions, will be relying on the discretion of the stewards to take up their places on the grid tomorrow afternoon.
Malaysian Grand Prix - Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m49.834s -
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m49.908s 0.074s
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.299s 0.465s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m51.541s 1.707s
5 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1m51.950s 2.116s
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1m51.980s 2.146s
7 Felipe Massa Williams 1m52.473s 2.639 s
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m52.980s 3.146s
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m53.179s 3.345s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1m53.260s 3.426s
11 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m42.173s -
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m42.197s -
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m43.022s -
14 Sergio Perez Force India 1m43.468s -
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1m43.700s -
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1m41.308s -
17 Jenson Button McLaren 1m41.635s -
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1m41.745s -
19 Roberto Merhi Marussia 1m46.677s -20 Will Stevens Marussia - -
Malaysian GP: Post-qualifying press conference
Rainy qualifying in Sepang with Hamilton in pole and Rosberg in third
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