McLaren continued their superb qualifying form this season as Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang with teammate Jenson Button a shade behind in second place. Mercedes GP had a good showing at their title sponsor’s home grand prix as Michael Schumacher set the third fastest time.
Red Bull had a lacklustre qualifying with Mark Webber starting fourth and Sebastian Vettel sixth – but will start from fifth place on the grid. Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen set the fifth fastest time but will drop down to tenth on the grid as a result of a gearbox change. Romain Grosjean will start sixth ahead of a disappointed Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes in seventh. Ferrari got into the top ten for the first time this season with Fernando Alonso starting eighth as Sauber’s Sergio Perez will start ninth.
Qualifying was briefly under the threat of rain showers which never showed up and as the track temperatures increased, most of the drivers took to the medium tyre – the softer of the two compounds that Pirelli has brought here – to bolster their lap times. Q1 saw Mark Webber set the pace ahead of Schumacher and Button as the two HRTs, the two Marussias, the two Caterhams and the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne dropped out of contention.
Q2 saw the returning Kimi Raikkonen go fastest ahead of Button and Hamilton. The Williams’ of Pastor Maldonado had an off track moment and slid into the gravel trap, which saw his car’s floor damaged and ending up outside the top ten. Felipe Massa too failed to make it into Q1, along with the second Williams of Bruno Senna, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, the two Force Indias of Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg & Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Of the top ten drivers, only Sebastian Vettel chose to do Q3 on the harder tyre which is a clear strategic move to try and make the Red Bull’s race pace translate into a possible victory. Fernando Alonso also drove only a single lap to preserve his tyres for the race. Kimi Raikkonen set the initial pace but along came the Mercedes and the McLarens and topped the timesheets.
Rosberg aside, all of the top ten were reasonably happy with their starting places for Sunday’s race and with Sepang’s turn one wide enough for an attacking manoeuvre, Jenson Button would no doubt relish getting another one over his teammate at the start. And if the changeable weather conditions come into play, expect a storming race as the three best wet-weather drivers are all at the head of the grid!
I’d tip Button for another win and Webber and Vettel to come second and third respectively.