Malaysian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Webber shows up the clowns
Strategic thinking worthy of the Keystone Kops has ensured that we will have a fascinating grid for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix.
Mark Webber's Red Bull will start on pole after making an inspired choice of intermediate tyres in Q3, ending up 1.3 seconds ahead of Nico Rosberg's Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel. But a mass loss of intelligence has ensured that three world champions will start in the last eight.
There are a lot of clever people in Formula 1 but the dividing line between genius and stunning stupidity is a thin one. Sometimes you can be far too clever for your own good - and many of F1's top teams showed just how futile it is to try and double-guess the future.
Of all the places to take a gamble and skip getting a banker lap, you'd think they'd come to Sepang often enough to know not to give it a try in Malaysia. But try they did - and the result was that neither McLaren nor Ferrari made it as far as Q2.
They promised rain, and so it came. With just ten minutes before the start of qualifying this afternoon the heavens opened at Sepang. It wasn't quite the monsoon that has swamped this track in the past - and at that time the forecast was for the rain to continue for 15 minutes before a dry spell. Still, the sensible drivers came straight out at the start of qualifying to make the most of the track while it could still be driven.
At the start of Q1, Lotus, Hispania, Toro Rosso, Sauber plus Vitaly Petrov and Nico Hulkenberg all went out in the very first minute. Timo Glock went out for Virgin while Lucas di Grassi stayed in the pits due to a problem. But, crucially, only Sebastian Vettel went out early from the top runners.
All the cars chose intermediate tyres but Vitaly Petrov was the first to succumb to the conditions, spinning on his first flying lap. Sebastien Buemi followed him shortly afterwards. It was a sign of things to come. As Bruno Senna beached himself in a gravel trap, the main players duly came out but it slowly dawned on the top guys that the track wasn't drying out as they had expected.
Both Mercedes just managed to squeeze into the top 17, as did Jenson Button. But Lewis Hamilton spun at the last corner on his first flying lap - and just moments later Button spun off and embedded himself in the gravel. By then he'd already gone up to 13th place so he went through but he was able to take no further part in proceedings.
As the rain failed to abate the teams called their men in for full wet tyres. Michael Schumacher and the Ferraris were among the first to swap - and Hamilton almost spun again on his way into the pits while Alonso did a triple spin in a desperate bid to make up for it.
In the end both Hamilton and Fernando Alonso's Ferrari improved as the rain finally stopped in the final two minutes but to no avail. They were out, along with Felipe Massa - alongside the two Hispanias, Lucas di Grassi and Jarno Trulli. The fastest in Q1 had been Robert Kubica's Renault, Pedro de la Rosa's Sauber and Vettel's Red Bull - showing himself clearly the oldest head of the big boys.
While Hamilton did his best to laugh about it, Button, who will start 17th, said: 'We read it wrong. We thought that the first storm was it and nothing else was coming. So we waited. Obviously that was not the right thing to do.' D'uh...
Needless to say no one made such a glaring error in Q2, with rain again forecast during the session. It was another exciting session because the rain eased off in the middle of the session, allowing many drivers to make major gains. With seven minutes left Vitaly Petrov went fastest, two seconds up on the then leader Michael Schumacher. In the end Schumacher scraped into Q3 in P10, while Petrov missed the cut along with Pedro de la Rosa, the two Toro Rossos, Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock, who had a spin.
At the head of the times in Q2 was Vettel, with Robert Kubica's Renault and Adrian Sutil next up. Nico Hulkenberg, Nico Rosberg, Kamui Kobayashi, Mark Webber, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Rubens Barrichello and Schumacher completed the top ten. Force India and Williams both did well to get both cars into Q3 - as, in the end, did Mercedes and Red Bull.
In Q3 all the cars went out at the start because this time the rain looked like it was here to stay. Indeed, conditions were so bad that the red flag came out after just three minutes.
The cars went out again after a brief hiatus as the rain stopped. In the day's only stroke of true genius, Mark Webber made the choice to go out on intermediates while his team-mate Vettel went out on full wets. Webber's first lap was nothing special but as the line dried - despite further late rain - he ended up 1.3 seconds clear of the field. Behind Rosberg and Vettel come great performances from Adrian Sutil's Force India and Nico Hulkenberg's Williams, making up four Germans in the top five. Robert Kubica, Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi and Vitantonio Liuzzi round off the top ten.
The great thing about stupidity is that it is entertaining, as clowns down the years have shown. Today there were red noses and red faces all round. The good news for us spectators is that there will now be a wonderfully topsy-turvy grid for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix...