Hamilton speeds to pole in Malaysia, Raikkonen P2 for Ferrari; Verstappen P3 as Vettel suffers engine failure in Q1, will start last
After a disastrous Singapore Grand Prix two weeks ago that saw both Ferarris crash out on the opening lap, Maranello showed tremendous speed in practice at the Sepang circuit and were surely hoping to be rewarded in qualifying on Saturday. Instead, the Scuderia’s bad luck continued when their lead driver Sebastian Vettel suffered engine problems in Q1 to his newly installed power plant. Despite frantic efforts by the team it proved unrepairable to be able to get the car out and set a timed lap and Vettel will face the monumental challenge of starting from last on the grid come Sunday. That opened the door to Mercedes and their championship-leading driver Lewis Hamilton. Despite looking like lacking the pace up against Ferrari and even Red Bull in all three practice sessions, Hamilton laid down a flyer good enough for a new all-time track record as well as a dominant pole. After lucking into the win at rainy Singapore despite starting back in P5 Hamilton now finds himself in his more accustomed front row perch where he will be very hard to beat. Vettel and Ferrari have got be hopimg for a typical torrential Malaysian downpour to shake up the contest and give them some extra strategy options to pick up positions.
On the other side of their garage, however, Kimi Raikkonen did well to fly the flag and give Ferrari some hope, lifting his Prancing Horse up to P2 with a very representative lap a mere .05 behind Hamilton’s streaking Silver Arrow. It looks like the Iceman will be Lewis’ key competition when the lights go out so look for Kimi to try and ambush the lead Mercedes early in Lap 1. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who turned 20 on Saturday, was also very quick and pipped his teammate for P3, with Daniel Ricciardo having to settle for P4. If something goes down between the first two competing cars look for the Red Bulls to try and take advantage at a track where they were 1-2 last year. Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was once again off the pace in quali and could do no better than P5. Esteban Ocon was the lead Force India, besting his stablemate and arch-rival Sergio Perez P6 to P9 respectively. And both McLarens were once agin in the top 10 with young Stoffel Vandoorne P7 and veteran Fernando Alonso P10. Nico Hulkenberg was a solid P8 for the improving factory Renault team.
Top 10 qualifiers for the Malysian Grand Prix:
|3||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:31.920||1:30.931||1:30.541||12|
|4||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:32.416||1:31.061||1:30.595||16|
|6||31||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:32.527||1:31.651||1:31.478||17|
|9||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:32.768||1:31.484||1:31.658||18|
In other news it seems this will be the Malaysian Grand Prix’s last time on the F1 calendar for the foreseeable future, ending a 19-year run. And reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly made his Formula 1 debut this weekend, stepping into the Toro Rosso for a few races and relegating the erratic Daniil Kvyat to reserve status. Gasly qualified just behind his teammate Carlos Sainz in P15 and may get a permanent seat with the team when Sainz jumps to Renault next year.
Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC Sports at the ungodly hour of 3AM here in the States. So set the DVR or brew an extra pot of coffee to pull an all-nighter because watching Sebastian Vettel try to carve his way through the field in pursuit of Hamilton should be worth the price of admission. Hope to see you then!