Mark Webber achieved his second career pole position for Red Bull Racing with a strong drive on intermediate tyres in the tricky wet conditions at the Sepang International Circuit.
The Australian’s margin over his nearest competitor was impressive – over one second clear – compared to Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel will start the Malaysian Grand Prix in third in the other Red Bull.
As for the McLarens and Ferraris, the top two outfits were caught out by the changeable weather on the wrong sets of Bridgestone and will line up near the rear end of the grid.
Rain played a major part in the qualifying session and after several spins from many cars plus a red flag, the grid for Sunday’s race looks like its going to be another entertaining Grand Prix.
The late decision to remain in the pits in Q1 to see if the conditions improve proved costly for Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, as each driver was struggling on the track.
For the reigning world champion, the McLaren went into spin at Turn 6 and Button was forced to withdraw the rest of the session with his car stuck in the gravel. Jenson will start in P17. His team-mate fared no better with Hamilton spinning on the last corner on his first qualifying run. Lewis was unable to extract a faster lap time due to the increasing rain and will start the Malaysian Grand Prix in P20.
The same problem of being caught out by the rain also affected the Scuderia with Alonso and Massa struggling for grip and decent lap times. In the case of the current championship leader, the Spaniard performed a perfect 1080-degree spin exiting Turn 8 while Massa had a slide through the gravel. The time difference may only be 0.2-0.4 seconds to advance into Q2 but due to the tricky wet conditions, it was extremely unlikely for the Ferraris to find the available time and go through. The pair will start the race in P19 and P21 respectively.
So the prospect of the strongest/fastest cars at the rear of the grid should form an exciting race on Sunday, but what about the rest? Well, the Force India of Adrian Sutil exceeded in the changeable conditions and did a great job to qualify in fourth position. Sutil even had provisional pole in Q3 but then the track conditions improved and Webber was able to take advantage to grab the top spot thanks to his gamble on intermediates. Still, it was an impressive performance by Sutil in the Force India.
The Williams of Nico Hulkenberg lines up fifth, his best qualifying performance for a Formula One rookie. As for Robert Kubica, who had set the pace in Q1, the Renault driver will start the race in sixth position.
On row four is Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher – Williams and Mercedes GP respectively – with Kamui Kobayashi taking Sauber’s first top ten start of the season ahead of Tonio Liuzzi in the other Force India.
The Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersauri form up row seven with Renault’s Vitaly Petrov just missing out on a Q3 spot and will start P11, ahead of Pedro de la Rosa, who was a second off his Sauber team-mate Kobayashi’s Q2 pace.
With the top drivers making mistakes in the rain-interrupted qualifying session, it allowed the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen and Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock to reach Q2 for the first time in their teams’ history. The pair will form row eight. For Heikki, he out-qualified his team-mate Jarno Trulli by a small margin of 0.009 seconds to take P17.
As for the Hispania team, Karun Chandhok out-qualified his team-mate Bruno Senna for the first time as the Brazilian spun off early in Q1. Both beat Lucas di Grassi – who only joined Q1 for the saturated closing minutes as post-practice work on his Virgin over-ran.
Thanks to the wet qualifying session, we have a mixed up grid with the McLarens and Ferraris at the back while at the sharp end is the Red Bulls. More rain is forecast in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, so expected to see plenty of action and overtaking.
Qualifying times from Sepang:
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:49.327
2. Rosberg Mercedes 1:50.673
3. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:50.789
4. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:50.914
5. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:51.001
6. Kubica Renault 1:51.051
7. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:51.511
8. Schumacher Mercedes 1:51.717
9. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:51.767
10. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:52.254
11. Petrov Renault 1:48.760
12. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:48.771
13. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:49.207
14. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:49.464
15. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:52.270
16. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:52.520
17. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:52.211
18. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:52.884
19. Alonso Ferrari 1:53.044
20. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:53.050
21. Massa Ferrari 1:53.283
22. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:56.299
23. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:57.269
24. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:59.977