Lewis Hamilton claimed his fifth career Malaysian Grand Prix pole position, equalling Michael Schumacher’s Sepang record, as the qualifying hopes of title Sebastian Vettel wrecked by a mechanical issue that saw him dumped out of the session at the end of Q1.
Kimi Räkkönen was left to uphold Ferrari honour and the Finn almost claimed his second pole of the year as he got to within five hundredths of a second of Hamilton’s pole time. Third place on the grid will be taken by Max Verstappen with team-mate Daniel Ricciardo making it an all Red Bull second row.
The major story of Q1 surrounded Vettel. A problem late in final practice led to a change of ICE and MGU-H on the German’s Ferrari, but the team managed to get the title contender out on track at the beginning of Q1.
However, just a minute later Vettel was on the radio saying that he had lost drive. “It feels like I have no turbo,” he told his team as he limped back to the pitlane.
With about three minutes remaining in the session, his mechanics were replacing the engine cover on his Ferrari and it seemed like he would get one run in which to set a time. However, he was held in the garage as checks were done and eventually the window of time available to complete a warm-up lap and cross the line for a flyer before the chequered flag was waved ran out. Vettel was eliminated from the session having failed to set a time.
Also ruled out at this stage were 16th-placed Romain Grosjean of Haas, with the Frenchman finishing ahead of team-mate Kevin Magnussen and the Saubers of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson.
At the top of the order, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was quickest, with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen in second. Third place in the session went to Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, with Kimi Räikkönen fourth in the sole Ferrari to set a time.
In Q2 it was Räikkönen who set the early pace, with the Finn taking P1 with a time of 1:30.926, just five thousandths of a second ahead of Verstappen. However, as the Finn and the Dutchman elected to stay put for the final runs, it was Bottas who ended the segment in P1, the Mercedes driver setting a time of 1:30.803.
Through to Q3 behind third-placed Verstappen were Hamilton, Ricciardo, Force India duo Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and the McLarens of Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso.
Eliminated at the end of the Q2 were Williams Felipe Massa in P11, with the Brazillian followed by Jolyon Palmer in the second Renault, Williams’ Lance Stroll and the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly.
In Q3 Hamilton finally made his move, claiming provisional pole at the end of the first runs, with Räikkönen three tenths behind the Briton. Ricciardo was third ahead of team-mate Verstappen.
And the Mercedes man was not to be denied in the final runs, though it was a close-run thing. Ricciardo was first across the line but failed to improved having made small errors in the final two sectors. Verstappen then jumped ahead of his team-mate to claim P3.
It was then Hamilton’s turn to post a final time and surprisingly, the Mercedes driver made no improvement. That left the door open for Räikkönen, but though the Ferrari driver put in a superb effort to improve by almost two tenths, he ended up in P2, just 0.045s behind Hamilton.
With the Red Bulls locking out row two, fifth place went to Valtteri Bottas. He was followed by Force India’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, the Renault of Nico Hulkbenberg, the second Force India of Sergio Perez and the second McLaren of Fernando Alonso.