The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton has capitalised on misfortune for Ferrari by claiming pole position for the final Malaysian Grand Prix, while his nearest championship rival Sebastian Vettel will start last after engine problems during qualifying.
Both Ferrari and Vettel appeared to be favourites for pole following difficult Free Practice sessions for the Mercedes drivers. However in Free Practice Three Vettel limped home to the pits with an electrical issue of some kind effecting his engine. The team worked against time to fit a new engine in, the final one Vettel can take penalty free, but in the end a turbo glitch on the engine prevented Vettel from being able to qualify. Resulting in him having to start from last place.
“It’s part of motor racing,” Vettel told reporters after the session. “For sure, it’s not ideal, it’s not what we want, especially on a day where you feel that you’ve got it in you, you’ve got it in the car but we won’t be able to prove that. It’s a pretty bad day.”
Hamilton is now poised to increase his 28 point advantage in the championship after taking pole, something he felt was almost impossible after Friday. The Mercedes team brought a new aero package to the race that both drivers said gave them less confidence in the car than they’d had previously. The package led to the silver arrow being on average a second off the pace on Friday. On Saturday it was decided Hamilton would switch back to an older aero package while his team mate Valtteri Bottas had to struggle on with the new aero package. The old spec package seemed to have made all the difference, as Hamilton took pole by only four hundredths of a second from the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
“We had such a difficult day yesterday it was difficult to know where we stood. I didn’t sleep very well last night as we didn’t know if we would fix the issue,” Hamilton said after the session. “The car was better but it still looked like Ferrari were ahead. We had some decisions to make for Qualifying. That first Q3 lap I don’t really know where it came from. I’m surprised to be up here.”
Raikkonen will start second tomorrow with a clear strategy in mind from Ferrari, stop Hamilton scoring the maximum 25 points for a race win. While birthday boy Max Verstappen will start third after again out-qualifying his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in fourth. The Dutchman, who celebrated his 20th birthday with third on the grid, will be hoping for a typical Malaysian downpour tomorrow. Having shown his skills in the wet many times now. Verstappen has been hailed as something of a rainmeister, and many people feel if it rains tomorrow during the race he could well be a driver to watch. His team mate Ricciardo was also optimistic about the Red Bull’s chance in wet weather, but was also quick to highlight their long run pace is not what they would have wanted.
“Honestly Ferrari are the only one who have shown consistent pace all weekend on long runs,” Ricciardo said “I think we’ve been not completely happy with ours, and I think Mercedes as well haven’t found a good balance. We would be very happy in wet conditions. I’m always ready.”
Hamilton’s team mate Bottas managed the fifth fastest time, despite the deficit from the aero package. Though it was clear all is not well among the team regarding Bottas’ current performance. The Finn is yet to out-qualify Hamilton since the return from summer break, and more worryingly for him, he is also yet to qualify within half a second of Hamilton since summer break too. While team Boss Toto Wolff seemed to jump to Bottas’ defence, it’s clear Bottas needs to impress more over the next few weeks. Especially as Wolff doesn’t pin the whole session on the aero package.
“I don’t think it’s the upgrade issue [for Valtteri]. I think we are going to run it in Japan, all the data says it is good.” Wolff said. “Maybe we shouldn’t underestimate the driving factor. These cars are tricky to drive and ramping it up until this final section is important and he has been improving his driving all through the weekend like he did in Singapore.”
Esteban Ocon impressed for Force India as he qualified sixth for the race, with the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne lining up alongside him in a career best seventh position. The Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and Force India of Sergio Perez qualified eight and ninth respectively. While the other McLaren of Fernando Alonso finished up the top ten.
With Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all having one car in the grid’s first three positions, as well as Vettel making his way through the fields, and the ever constant threat of rain, the last-ever Malaysia Grand Prix has the potential to be one of the Sepang circuit’s most competitive.
Malaysia GP Qualifying Results
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:30.076
2. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, +0.045
3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, +0.465
4. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, +0.519
5. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, +0.682
6. Esteban Ocon, Force India, +1.402
7. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, +1.506
8. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, +1.531
9. Sergio Perez, Force India, +1.582
10. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, +1.628
Knocked out in Q2
11. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:32.034
12. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:32.100
13. Lance Stroll, Williams, 1:32.307
14. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:32.402
15. Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, 1:32.558
Knocked out in Q1
16. Romain Grosjean, Haas, 1:33.308
17. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 1:33.434
18. Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber, 1:33.483
19. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:33.970
20. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, No time Set
Feature Image Credit: Scuderia Ferrari Press Release.