Malaysian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Sebastian Vettel timed things perfectly on a drying track to snatch pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix in his Red Bull. He beat out Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso who gridded second and third ahead of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Mark Webber.
"It was interesting qualifying session," Vettel said after winning the 38th pole of his career and second of the year. "We knew rain was in the way, we thought it would be at the start of Q1, so we had a different approach from other people. The rain helped us in Q2, otherwise we needed another run. In Q3 it was clear it was better to change tires for a second run, we didn't know if more rain was coming or not. I'm surprised for the gap, it was a decent lap. For tomorrow we saved some tires and that could be crucial."
"If you start on pole you want to finish at the front," he added. "I'm very happy with the balance of the car, it's a big step forward compared to where we were last year. Tomorrow managing the tires will be crucial; we know the pace is there and we hope to get to the checkered flag in the same position."
Massa said the rain helped Ferrari be more competitive.
"Maybe the rain helped us, because I don't know if we could be second and third in the dry," he said. "Kimi and the Mercedes would have been probably quicker. In Q3 we did the right thing by changing tires, because the track was drying up."
But Alonso was more upbeat for the race.
"Tomorrow we try to do a good race, score as many points as possible," he said. "In the long runs we've been inconsistent, but we didn't have big problems in the long runs. There's no reason not to be optimistic for tomorrow but we'll have to see. It's a long race and a lot of things can happen."
The weather was virtually unchanged from what it had been in free practice three hours earlier. It was 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) with the humidity at 58 percent when qualifying got underway at 4 p.m. The track temperature was 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius.)
Nobody was waiting at pit exit when the lights turned green. Instead, the drivers sat in their cars in the garages waiting for somebody else to go out and lay some rubber down on the racing line. After a couple of minutes, Marussia teammates Max Chilton and Julian Bianchi got the ball rolling, and several more drivers headed out as well. But the big teams continued to play the waiting game for a few more minutes in order to conserve tires. The aim for them was to use the hard compound Pirelli if possible and save new sets of mediums for later on in Q2 and Q3.
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) set the first serious lap time with a 1:37.239 using the hard tires.
With less than 10 minutes remaining in the 20 minute session, the Red Bull and Lotus drivers had yet to go out.
With eight minutes to go, Adrian Sutil (Force India) jumped to the top with a 1:36.809 on the medium tires. The Lotus duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were now on the track. They were soon joined by Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
With less than four minutes to go, Vettel and Webber finally posted lap times. They were 11th and 15th respectively on the medium tires. Webber improved to ninth on his second lap. Vettel, who had been pushed back to 15th, did not improve his time. They certainly cut things close!
The top six were Adrian Sutil (Force India), Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Romain Grosjean (Lotus) and Jenson Button (McLaren.)
Of course, it was not who went fastest that was important but who the six slowest drivers would be.
The six drivers eliminated at the end of Q1 were: Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso), Valterri Bottas (Williams), Jules Bianchi (Marussia), Charles Pic (Caterham), Max Chilton (Marussia) and Guido van der Garde (Caterham.)
Paul di Resta (Force India) was the first out in Q2, but he went back to the pits without setting a time.
Nobody was messing about with the hard tires in this session because the drivers needed the extra speed from the mediums.
Sutil set the pace again with a 1:36.834, but Rosberg topped that with a 1:36.190. Webber moved into second with a 1:36.449.
Light rain began to fall with half of the 15 minute session over. Di Resta slid off the track but kept going. But then he spun but avoided hitting anything. The slick track made it impossible for anybody to improve their times.
The top 10 in Q2 were: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), Adrian Sutil (Force India), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Jenson Button (McLaren), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) and Sergio Perez (McLaren.)
The six drivers eliminated at the end of Q2 were: Romain Grosjean (Lotus), Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber), Paul di Resta (Force India) and Pastor Maldonado (Williams.)
The track was damp in places as the final 10-car 10-minute shootout began. But the sun was out in other areas and the track was dry. Tire strategy was going to be vitally important. On the pit straight it was raining and sunny at the same time. The intermediate Pirelli rain tire, with its green sidewalls, was going to be the tire to use.
Everybody was anxious to set a time as soon as possible in case the rain increased. Six drivers were lined up when the lights turned green. Sutil was at the head of the queue. And within seconds all 10 drivers were on the wet track.
Hamilton slid off on his warm up lap but kept going.
As the drivers completed their first flying lap, Sutil was quickest, but then Perez, Hamilton, Rosberg and finally Vettel shot to the top of the screens.
As they completed their second flying lap, Webber moved up to second and the Ferrari drivers pitted for new tires. Less than three minutes remained and the rain had stopped. The track was drying, so who ever could be out close to the end of the session would have an advantage.
Webber took the pole but Hamilton beat him. Then Alonso went fastest. But Vettel was really flying and took the pole with a time of 1:49.674 compared to Alonso's 1:50.727. And then Massa turned a 1:50.587 to grab second place on the grid and push Alonso down to third.
Hamilton, Webber, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Button, Sutil and Perez rounded out the top 10.