Malaysian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Brawn shows its muscle
Jenson Button dominated the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Six days later he took pole position in Malaysia, beating Jarno Trulli to pole position by a tenth of a second in the final seconds of the Q3 session. On Friday that had not looked like a very likely outcome, with the Ferraris 1-2 and Sebastian Vettel third in his Red Bull.
"We were surprised by the speed of the Ferraris and the Red Bulls," Jenson said. "Last night we did not think we could do their times and we had to work on the car a lot. Today it worked really well."
It was clear that in Malaysia, it was the hard tyres that were causing the most problems, which was the opposite of what was seen in Australia.
"The softer tyres seem to be the tyres everyone prefers," Button said. "I was able to get the primes to work - and I don't think many people did. That will be hard especially if it is cool. There will be a lot of shuddering on the harder tyre. Once again it is going to be about tyre management. It is frustrating. These are very different races to what we are used to."
Button said that the real unknown will be if there is a wet race as Brawn GP had no time to do wet testing and many of the teams have done very little.
"The new regulations have thrown everything up into the air, but I think a lot will change in the next few races," Button said. "We want to be in front for the whole season but it is going to be tough. Ferrari will not be slow for too long. I think that is the team that will start challenging us after Toyota and Red Bull. At the moment I am in a good position with two pole positions and a win. But we've only had one race! This car is much nicer to drive. It is not easy. You still have the movements with the rear end but it reacts to changes and we can work on the balance to get it competitive. For sure I would rather it was dry tomorrow, but we thought it would rain for qualifying. So now we have to do a lot of thinking and plan for what to do if it is wet."
The rain in Kuala Lumpur comes usually at the end of the afternoon and when it comes it is not drizzle. These are impressive tropical storms and the idea of a late start make it quite likely that the race will take place in very wet conditions. The race could last until seven o'clock tomorrow and as seven approached on Saturday evening a massive storm came rolling in... It was dark and rain cascaded on to the paddock.
The teams would need headlights on the cars...
"We don't have any practice in the wet," said Button. "It will be difficult to know how the car will react. The biggest thing will be trying to get the aero-balance right. It is going to be different, but we' don't know how different. We will make the most of it."
The Q3 session ended with Trulli second and Vettel third, but the young German had a 10-grid place penalty from Australia and so will tumble down the order. Similarly, Rubens Barrichello was faced with a five-grid place penalty as the Brawn team was forced to change a gearbox after his adventures in Melbourne. This meant that Trulli's Toyota team-mate Timo Glock rose from fifth on the timesheets to third on the grid with Nico Rosberg's Williams-Toyota similarly moving up to the fourth.
Mark Webber was next and will line up fifth on Sunday ahead of Robert Kubica's BMW Sauber and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari.
It was not a good day for the Italian team with Felipe Massa being caught out by the speed of his rivals in the midfield. He thought he had done enough to make it through Q1, but found himself bounced down to 16th and so took no further part in the proceedings. That was a disaster for Maranello. Also knocked out were Nelson Piquet in his Renault (no surprise there), Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil in the two Force Indias and Sebastien Buemi's Toro Rosso. It was a surprise to see Sebastien Bourdais sneak in with 15th, splitting the two Ferraris.
The Q2 session saw Button on top again, two-tenths ahead of Trulli, with Webber third. The session ended in a real scramble at the bottom end of the top 10 with Fernando Alonso getting through at the absolute last minute and with the tiniest of margins. Nick Heidfeld and Kazuki Nakajima were the men who were bumped out but the difference between the three was just 0.082s. There were glum faces down at McLaren (again) as Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen went out, as did Bourdais.
And so it went down to the wire with Alonso obviously sure that he could not do much more than he had. We waited to see how light the men with the penalties would be but none of them could touch the pace of Button.