Sepang, Malaysia - Practise session’s issues faded from memory almost instantly as championship leader, Lewis Hamilton delivered the goods on Saturday evening taking his fourth consecutive Malaysian pole position for Mercedes. The Englishman bested Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by just 0.045 seconds and the two Red Bull’s of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton’s title rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was having it worst, failing to set a time after experiencing engine problems, the German will start the place at the back of the grid. In fifth was the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, followed by Esteban Ocon’s Force India, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg. Rounding up the final top 10 spots were Sergio Perez in the other Force India and the other McLaren of Fernando Alonso.
Q1 saw Hamilton set the pace with 1 minute 31.605 seconds on Pirelli soft tyres ahead of Verstappen, Bottas, Raikkonen and Ricciardo. Vettel however ran into mechanical issues and had to get his car’s engine changed at the end of FP3 with turbocharger problems. With the crew getting the German ready for a last-minute run it all came to naut with Vettel starting Sunday’s race from the back.
F1 rookie, Pierre Gasly took an impressive eighth place for Toro Rosso ahead of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and even his fellow team-mate, Carlos Sainz. Just scraping through into Q2 was McLaren’s Fernando Alonso on 1 minute 33.049 seconds. All four cars from Haas and Sauber failed to go further.
Q2 saw Bottas take the top spot on his second run with 1 minute 30.803 seconds over Raikkonen’s 1 minute 30.926 seconds. The latter didn’t do a second run, while Red Bull’s Verstappen could not improve upon his 1 minute 30.931 seconds from his first attempt. Hamilton however, did, bringing down his lap time to 1 minute 30.977 seconds ahead of Ricciardo.
Alonso scraped through once again, just 24 hundredths in front of Felipe Massa who brought his Williams in at 1 minute 32.034 seconds. Palmer too failed to make it to Q3 with 1 minute 32.180 seconds as did the other Williams of Lance Stroll on 1 minute 32.307 seconds and the pair of Toro Rossos. Sainz now led his rookie team-mate, Gasly marginally with 1 minute 32.402 seconds to 1 minute 32.558 seconds.
Q3 really heated up as Hamilton was dead serious hammering a 1 minute 30.076 seconds to displace fellow driver, Bottas from the top spot after the Finn clocked 1 minute 30.945 seconds. Raikkonen improved as well but it was not enough with a 1 minute 30.308 seconds. Ricciardo and Verstappen matched the Mercs with 1 minute 30.595 seconds and 1 minute 30.634 seconds respectively earning them third and fourth fastest.
Hamilton’s second run was not any better but Raikkonen couldn’t do any better with a 1 minute 30.121 seconds that just was not enough. Verstappen improved as well to 1 minute 30.541 seconds to displace fellow Red Bull driver, Ricciardo, while Bottas had a 1 minute 30.758 seconds that left him in fifth.
Behind them was Ocon in sixth with 1 minute 31.478 seconds, Vandoorne on 1 minute 31.582 seconds, Hulkenberg on 1 minute 31.607 seconds, Perez on 1 minute 31.658 seconds and finally Alonso on 1 minute 31.704 seconds.
Special thanks to Rewind Images and Timothy Tan for all the photos taken during the race!