After a rain delayed qualifying session it was Mercedes’ Malaysian mission complete as Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position in todays Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying and his second of the season so far.
As we waited the start of qualifying the expected Malaysian storm came around and brought a 50-minute delay to proceedings. The 50-minute delay was staggered out in four delays. With the first three all being 15-minute delays. Most of the waiting was a result of the standing water laying on the track, which would have been unsafe for the drivers to go out on. But as time ticked on it was a completely different story and the track dried, then it was time to push.
As the start of the session came closer teams began to congregate at the exit of the pit lane, with Mercedes leading the pack onto the track. Trying to set the pace early Mercedes pushed away from the rest of the grid leaving a 2 second gap between 2nd place and third, whilst the Mercedes were split by just .1 of a second. Later on this gap would reduce to just .019 of a second.
As the Merc’s set the pace it appeared it was all over for Vettel as the team called for him to box due to a technical issue. Luckily for the defending champion, after a quick re-boot the car was good to go again and he was able to progress all the way to Q3.
But Q1 was far from over for many other drivers, let alone the McLaren team with both drivers sitting in the drop zone. When the teams prepared to head out, McLaren opted to go for intermediate tyres but this plan backfired when the rain returned at the end of the session. Luckily for them, there was still time remaining in the session to pit for full wet tyres and progress through to Q2.
Later, as the chequered flag loomed with 35 seconds to go the red flag was brought out and marked the premature end of the session. The red flag was a result of Ericsson crashing out of the session and scattering debris over the track. As he exited turn two he appeared to struggle to put the power down but it was as he made his way to turn four, it was the end of the road for him. He was able to fight for control of his car for long enough before it was time and he eventually lost the battle, bounced over the gravel trap and into the barrier, spraying debris and his car back onto the track.
This marked the end of the session and saw Maldonado, Sutil, Bianchi, Kobayashi, Chilton and Ericsson all knocked out of qualifying in Q1.
During the few minutes between Q1 and 2, the rain returned over the track. Thankfully it wasn’t in the heavy quantity that saw the delay to Q1, instead all it caused was some strategy calls for the teams. Many of which chose to start Q2 on the full wet tyres but Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas opted for the intermediate tyres, which proved to be a mistake later on for Bottas.
Whereas Kimi opted for a quick pit to change onto the full wets after realising it was a mistake to go out on the inters. Luckily for Ferrari they were gifted some extra time in Q2 to make the change after another red flag was brought out. This time at the hands of Kvyat and Alonso coming together.
As the two drivers progressed around the track hoping to get some clean air, Kvyat went in too deep and left himself with little breaking time and, instead of ploughing straight into the back of Alonso, opted to send his car down the inside of the corner. This incident could prove costly for Kvyat as it will be investigated after the session to see if he caused an avoidable incident. But at the time, it looked like it was game over as far as Alonso was concerned as the incident broke part of his front left suspension.
Amazingly, a few minutes later the Ferrari headed back out onto the track after some Italian magic to fix their car.
Now returning to Bottas and his mistake to stay out on intermediate tyres. After the red flag and with only 7 minuets remaining he was lapping miles behind the rest of the pack and was 8.6 seconds below the fastest time of the session. Later on he was able to claw back some time and close the gap to 5 seconds but with the lap times he was putting in it was obvious the inters were of no use.
Eventually Williams chose to change the plan with Bottas and pitted him for full wet tyres, but on the other side of the garage it was another story. Massa also came into the pits for new tyres but was put onto the intermediate tyres the team had seen Bottas doing no good on. Massa himself didn’t enjoy his brief time on the tyres and opted to come back in for full wets as the two Williams drivers attempted to get into Q3.
As the chequered flag dropped it was do or die time for Bottas as he had one chance on the full wets to get out of the drop zone. But unlike back in Australia he was unable to progress into Q3 as his fastest lap was only good enough to move him up to 12th. Unfortunately, he was not last over the line and the drivers he had just overtook were still out on track and the two Toro Rosso drivers of Vergne and Kvyat pegged Bottas backed down the order as they both improved on their times.
This session also saw the end of Lotus in qualifying. Maldonado had already been knocked out in Q1 and in Q2 it was time for Grosjean to join his teammate on the side-lines.
Joining Grosjean and Bottas out in Q2 was: Kvyat, Gutierrez, Massa and Perez.
Now into Q3 we still had a wet track on our hands and what tyres to go out on was still a key call to make. McLaren, like in Q1 opted to send both drivers out on intermediate tyres. Not to the liking of Magnussen, who radioed in and requested a change to the full wet tyres. Button on the other hand thought staying out on the intermediate tyres was worth the risk as it could have seen them progress higher up the grid. Unfortunately it saw him qualify in 10th place.
Elsewhere, drivers who started on the full wet tyres began to set their initial lap times and the running order went, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg, Ricciardo, and Räikkönen.
It appeared no one was going to challenge Hamilton for pole position at this stage as no one was able to improve on their times. This lead to drivers opting for new tyres in the hope it would give them enough of an advantage they could bump themselves up the grid.
This would prove to be a late finisher as when the chequered flag dropped it was still all to play for.
Vettel was first to cross the finish line and take the chequered flag in his quest for pole but he was not able to improve. Soon followed by the rest of the challenging pack. But was anyone able to steal pole away from Hamilton?
The answer, no. Rosberg improved on his earlier lap time but it wasn’t enough to get him onto the front row and he had to settle for third on the grid behind pole sitter Lewis Hamilton and Vettel.
This pole for Lewis Hamilton marks back-to-back first place qualifying finishes after securing pole back in Australia, two weeks ago. Not only does this pole secure Hamilton back-to-back poles, it is also secures his 33rd career pole and equal Jim Clark’s record for pole positions.
After returning to the pit lane and seeing how close he was to getting pole position, Sebastian Vettel was clearly surprised by only being 0.055 seconds off of pole.
Full provisional grid for the Malaysian Grand Prix:
Hamilton, Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso, Ricciardo, Räikkönen, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Vergne, Button, Kvyat, Gutierrez, Massa, Perez, Bottas, Grosjean, Maldonado, Sutil, Bianchi, Kobayashi, Chilton, Ericsson.
Now as we wait for to the 5 red lights going out and the Malaysian Grand Prix being underway in less than 24 hours who do you think will win the Malaysian Grand Prix?