After losing the championship lead to Nico Rosberg in Singapore two weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton today took the title fight to the German with a blistering qualifying lap at the Sepang Circuit that earned his eighth pole of the season for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Briton posted a final Q3 time of 1:32.850 and while Rosberg improved enough on his final lap to claim P2, he could not compete with Hamilton’s pace and ended up four tenths of a second behind his team-mate.
Red Bull Racing locked out row two, with Max Verstappen ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, while Ferrari took row three with Sebastian Vettel in front of Kimi Raikkonen.
In Q1, both Mercedes drivers were on track early, and on soft tyres Hamilton and Rosberg soon established themselves in P1, with the Briton to the fore with a lap of 1:34.444. Rosberg was less than two hundredths of a second adrift.
Behind them Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was third ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Riccirado who took fourth on medium tyres. Sergio Perez was fifth in the second Force India, while the second Red Bull of Max Verstappen was sixth. Like his colleague he set his time on medium tyres.
Ferrari also opted for medium tyres in the early runs in the final minutes Ferrari, perhaps concerned that others might greatly improve, sent Raikkonen and Vettel out on softs tyres. They immediately jumped to third and fourth respectively, and to safety. Verstappen too was forced to bolt on the softs at the end of the session just in case, though he safely made it through in P12 and backed out of the run early to save the set.
In the drop zone going into the final runs, though, were Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr in the second Sauber, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and the second Manor of Esteban Ocon.
Gutierrez went into the final runs just four hundredths of a second off Jolyon Palmer’s P16 time and the Mexican easily bypassed that in the closing moments, jumping to P16.
Palmer though erred and slipped down the order. It meant that he qualified in P19 behind Ericsson and Nasr. Also out went Ocon and Wehrlein and Alonso, who due to engine changes will take a sufficiently large grid penalty tomorrow to make extended running in qualifying pointless.
Mercedes were again on track early in Q2 and Rosberg was first across the line with a time of 1:33.609. Hamilton was tearing through the sectors, though, and despite a moment were he overran a kerb the Briton posted a time almost six tenths clear of the championship leader.
Behind them Red Bull took third and fourth with Verstappen ahead, while Ferrari were fifth and sixth. Fifth-place Raikkonen was just five thousandths of a second behind Ricciardo.
In the drop zone ahead og the final Q2 runs were the sole remaining McLaren of Jenson Button, the Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Gutierrez, Renault’s Kevin Magnussen and the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat.
The top six as well as seventh-placed Felipe Massa of Williams all stayed in their garages for the final runs and it was left to the rest to tussle over the remaining Top 10 spots.
And it was Jenson Button who did the most to claim one of those spots. The Briton, who will tomorrow become just the third man in F1 history to start his 300th grand prix, jumped from P11 to P8 to seal a Q3 berth ahead of Hulkenberg and Perez. All of the top 10 in Q2 set their fastest time on soft tyres, so they will start the race on that compound.
Out then, from P11 back, went Valtteri Bottas, Grosjean, Gutierrez, Magnussen, Kvyat and Sainz.
Mercedes were again early adopters in the final top 10 shootout but Rosberg pile pressure on himself by making a mistake in the final corner. It would see him fifth after the first runs.
Hamilton though was finding time everywhere and at the end of his first run he’d set a blistering time of 1:32.850 to claim provisional P1. That was almost six tenths clear of second-placed Verstappen, with Ricciardo taking fourth ahead of Raikkonen, Rosberg and Vettel.
And it was a similar take in the final runs. Rosberg improved across the first two sectors but again he erred in the final sector. It was enough to secure the championship leader second place on the grid, however, as Verstappen failed to improve.
Ricciardo did improve, but it wasn’t enough to eclipse his team-mate and so he will line up fourth for the second year in a row. Ferrari took row three, while Perez was seventh ahead of Hulkenberg, Button and Massa.
2016 Malaysian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34.444 1:33.046 1:32.850
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.460 1:33.609 1:33.264
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:35.443 1:33.775 1:33.420
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:35.079 1:33.888 1:33.467
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:34.557 1:33.972 1:33.584
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:34.556 1:33.903 1:33.632
7 Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.068 1:34.538 1:34.319
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:34.827 1:34.441 1:34.487
9 Jenson Button McLaren 1:35.267 1:34.431 1:34.518
10 Felipe Massa Williams 1:35.267 1:34.422 1:34.671
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:35.166 1:34.577
12 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:35.400 1:35.001
13 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:35.658 1:35.097
14 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:35.593 1:35.277
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:35.695 1:35.369
16 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:35.605 1:35.374
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:35.816
18 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:35.949
19 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:35.999
20 Esteban Ocon Manor 1:36.451
21 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:36.587
22 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:37.155