Lewis Hamilton beats Kimi Raikkonen to pole at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Ferrari appeared to have the upper hand coming out of practice, but a storming lap at the start of Q3 saw Lewis Hamilton claim pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Starting the race 19-spots up the order to title-rival, Sebastian Vettel, after the German’s Ferrari suffered a turbo failure early on.
The opening stage of qualifying is where Sebastian Vettel’s session came to an end. The potential pole sitter, chasing a strong result to regain the ground lost in his Singapore Grand Prix crash, will start from the back of the grid.
Vettel’s mechanics had already rushed a four-hour engine change into the two-hour window that bridges practice three and qualifying after Sebastian suffered an electronics error that left his Prancing Horse limping back to the stable.
However, already being on the fourth turbocharger meant he could not take a new one without a grid penalty. And just seven minutes into the session, he was out of qualifying. Limping back once more, reporting a loss of power and that it “feels like I have no turbo”.
With Vettel out, Raikkonen needed a strong result to aid his team-mate’s championship challenge and set the pace at first in Q1.
But a storming lap by Hamilton in Q3 saw Lewis match Michael Schumacher on five poles in Malaysia with an absolute track record that will stand for a while yet, as Formula One will not be returning to the Sepang International Circuit anytime soon.
When the opening stage of qualifying began, the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers all hit the track with the soft compound Pirelli’s fitted rather than the red-walled supersofts opted for by Ricciardo and the rest.
Still, though, with enough pace to remain comfortably fastest. With Raikkonen one-tenth faster than the opening efforts of Hamilton and Bottas.
Second flyers then saw Hamilton improve by eight-tenths of a second to pull away from the time that Ricciardo could not even meet on the softer compound.
Meanwhile, as Vettel turned left into the sweeping Turn 5, the German’s turbo gave way and the instant power loss marked the end of the championship hopeful’s qualifying.
Ferrari did attempt to cure the gremlin when Sebastian returned to the garage. But after firing the car up once more with time for a flying run, the team were not happy with what they heard and opted not to send the car back out.
With Vettel out in 20th and last place, one driver who may have been eliminated could now make it through to Q2. With Fernando Alonso taking that honour in 15th place, narrowly edging the Haas duo who both improved on their final runs.
Final run gains also saw Stroll jump up the order with Mercedes’ upgraded unit the works team introduced in Belgium.
While Pierre Gasly rocketed up the order to move ahead of Carlos Sainz in 8th place. Dislodging his new team-mate by a tenth of a second on his debut Formula One race weekend having replaced Daniil Kvyat with an eye to the 2018 season.
Come the start of Q2, the dark clouds Mercedes had warned of earlier in the day began to gather over the circuit and darken the blue sky in Sepang.
Following the tacking of soft tyres in Q1, Ferrari and Mercedes both now opted to go out on the supersoft tyres. With Raikkonen again edging Hamilton over the first flying laps as he dipped into the 1 minute 30s while his Mercedes rivals sat on the cusp.
Daniel Ricciardo once again came home a few-tenths behind the now front three. Though Verstappen soared to miss the top spot by just five-thousandths of a second.
The lack of pace by Bottas and Ricciardo saw the pair, joined by Hamilton, return for a second run later into Q2 though being already safe. Particularly aiding Bottas going into Q3 as he jumped Raikkonen to go P1 as Hamilton could not make any significant improvements.
Ricciardo meanwhile improved to move closer to the pack, though remaining in P5.
Opening runs for the sister Red Bull team also left their drivers searching for time as they sat in the drop zone with only Lance Stroll slower. With just four-tenths covering the drivers occupying P7 to 15.
Unfortunately, neither Toro Rosso driver could improve their times to move up the order, while Stroll jumped the duo.
Stroll’s gains also moved the young Canadian closer to his Brazilian team-mate as the experienced hand slipped into 11th when Vandoorne and Alonso secured a top-10 slot.
Opening runs of the pole position shoot-out saw Lewis Hamilton find time like no other to storm away with a 1 minute 30.076 as engine modes were turned up and the fight for pole engaged. Even with an engine mode error on his out-lap left Hamilton engaging the race-start mode to trick a fix.
Hamilton again reported a power issue on his out-lap for the final run of the day, too. But after an on-par first sector, Lewis connected the corners of sector two and set a purple time for the zone.
Lewis’ final sector, however, saw the Briton fail to gain any time overall and his benchmark opening run was the time to beat as Bottas sought gains to move up from fifth.
Ricciardo’s opening Q3 run also saw the Australian out-do the efforts of Verstappen for the first time in qualifying with just five-hundredths separating the pair.
Yet, despite not setting a personal best first sector, Verstappen bettered Ricciardo in the opening zone and matched his team-mate in the next. Before a personal best final sector jumped the birthday boy into third place.
Bottas, meanwhile, did post a personal best first sector. But lost time in zone two left Bottas stuck in fifth place.
With Vettel out in Q1, and the threat of the ‘Bulls and Bottas coming short, the fight being taken to Hamilton was left with Raikkonen – who bettered Hamilton’s purple sector two time on what would be his final flying lap of the day.
Raikkonen had improved in the first sector too and increase the threat he posed in Q2. Charging to the line and taking the chequered flag, just short of fast enough after a lock-up into the final corner nudged the Ferrari marginally deeper. Crossing the line just four-hundredths of a second away from pole.
Outside the pole fight, Stoffel Vandoorne bettered the efforts of his team-mate and the ex-Force India partnership of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg. Despite Fernando Alonso carrying the latest bargeboards offered by McLaren, having rushed them to the track before enough could be made for both drivers to use.
Esteban Ocon, meanwhile, qualified in sixth place with a tenth of a second over the Belgian.
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||TAG||1’30.541||0.465|
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||TAG||1’30.595||0.519|
|6||Esteban Ocon||Force India||Mercedes||1’31.478||1.402|
|9||Sergio Perez||Force India||Mercedes||1’31.658||1.582|
|14||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||Renault||1’32.402||2.326|
|15||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||Renault||1’32.558||2.482|
|20||Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||Ferrari||No time set|