McLaren lock-out the front row in Sepang

For the second successive weekend, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button maintained McLaren’s excellent qualifying form this season with a front row lock-out at Sepang.

Michael Schumacher continues to impress with his best qualifying performance since making his Formula One comeback for Mercedes by taking third.

While defending world champion Sebastian Vettel elated to run the harder compound Pirelli and will start the Malaysian Grand Prix in fifth for Red Bull.

As was the case in Australia, Hamilton’s first flying lap in Q3 was enough to secure the top grid slot, as his one minute, 36.219 seconds proved unbeatable.

Button was second fastest after those runs, but was pushed back by Schumacher. Mercedes had left it late in Q2 and looked in danger of being eliminated before surging into the top ten, and then went for just one run in Q3.

That meant Schumacher was back in the pits by the time Button launched his retaliation, the McLaren edging the Mercedes off the front row by just 0.023 seconds. Schumacher beat team-mate Nico Rosberg by five places and a little under three tenths.

The Q3 battle was incredibly close, with just a small margin of four tenths covering pole to eighth position.

In fact, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen set times that were identical to one-thousandths of a second – but the Australian claims the place ahead as he set the time first. Kimi’s grid penalty means he will start the race in tenth.

Red Bull was not a pole contender again, despite Mark Webber setting the quickest lap in Q1. He will start in fourth while team-mate Vettel gambled on the hard compound for his second Q3 run, meaning he will start the race on the more durable tyres.

After topping the time sheets in Q2, Kimi Raikkonen qualified his Lotus in a superb fifth but will drop down to tenth following his gearbox penalty. His team-mate Romain Grosjean was sixth quickest.

Against the team’s own expectations, Fernando Alonso got Ferrari into Q3 – although he could only manage to beat Sergio Perez’s Sauber to ninth.

Felipe Massa was closer to Alonso’s pace than he had been for most of the Melbourne weekend but he missed the Q2 cut and was P12.

Several of the underdog stars of Melbourne qualifying fell back into the midfield in Malaysia.

Pastor Maldonado briefly got into the top ten despite an early trip through the gravel in Q2, but he was pushed back to P11 as the Mercedes delivered their late laps. Maldonado will start two positions ahead of Williams team-mate Bruno Senna.

There were no Force Indias or Toro Rossos in Q3 compared to last weekend.

The closely-matched Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg claimed P14 and P16 for Force India, just 0.013 seconds apart and split by Daniel Ricciardo, whose Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne locked-up in Q1, flat-spotted a tyre and consigned himself to P18.

Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber brought up the rear of the Q2 pack.

Both HRTs made the 107 per cent cut this time around, and will not even start last on the grid, as Heikki Kovalainen’s penalty for passing under the safety car in Australia will drop the Caterham from P19 to last.

So a fantastic result for McLaren and Lewis Hamilton. The MP4-27 certainly has the edge over their rivals and thanks to the Mercedes engine; the car is so fast down the Sepang straights.

Can Hamilton takes his first win of the 2012 season or will Button score his second successive triumph? What about Schumacher? The seven-time world champion has a great opportunity to go for his 92nd Grand Prix victory on Sunday.

Qualifying times from Sepang:

1.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes     1m36.219s
2.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m36.368s
3.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes             1m36.391s
4.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m36.461s
5.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m36.634s
6.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m36.658s
7.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             1m36.664s
8.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m37.566s
9.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari       1m37.698s
10.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m36.461s*
11.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     1m37.589s
12.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m37.731s
13.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault     1m37.841s
14.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes 1m37.877s
15.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m37.883s
16.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes 1m37.890s
17.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari       1m38.069s
18.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m39.077s
19.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault     1m39.567s
20.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth    1m40.903s
21.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth    1m41.250s
22.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth         1m42.914s
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth         1m43.655s
24.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault     1m39.306s**

107 per cent time: 1m43.974s

*Five-place grid penalty for changing gearbox
**Five-place grid penalty for passing under the safety car


11 thoughts to “McLaren lock-out the front row in Sepang”

  1. After taking his second successive pole position of the 2012 season, Lewis Hamilton expects ‘massively tough’ tyre wear situation in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix. has the details.

    Lewis Hamilton believes that managing his tyres correctly will be the key factor in deciding Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, after taking pole position for the race.

    Hamilton claimed his second straight pole of the 2012 season and will again share the front row with his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, who leads the championship after his victory in Australia last weekend.

    But after having no answer for Button’s race pace in Melbourne, a circuit at which degradation was minimal, Hamilton believes he will be much closer at Sepang, a track that places far greater demands on rubber due to its succession of long corners and warm track temperatures.

    “It is [crucial at Sepang]; positioning and tyre management,” he said. “In these conditions you never know what is going to happen, and these tyres are having a seriously hard time around here, so it’s going to be interesting.

    “This is a very tricky circuit with the temperatures and humidity outside. It will be massively tough tomorrow, so we just have to put ourselves in the best place we can.”

    Hamilton’s pole, which came by 0.149 seconds, was the 21st of his Formula 1 career, an achievement that only 10 drivers in F1 history have beaten.

    He said that despite this, he had not been entirely happy with his best effort in Q3.

    “The first lap was quite good, but I lost a bit of time in the last corner. And in the first corner I had a small oversteer moment, but it didn’t cost me much time. The rest of lap went quite well and fortunately I was able to minimise the amount I lost.”

  2. After qualifying in an excellent third place for Mercedes, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher was left feeling optimistic that the team can maintain this form into the race. has the story.

    Michael Schumacher was optimistic that Mercedes could carry its qualifying form into the Malaysian Grand Prix after securing his best starting spot since returning to Formula 1 as he went third quickest at Sepang.

    The seven-time world champion was beaten only by the two McLarens, and held a provisional front row spot until deposed by an improvement from Jenson Button.

    Mercedes ran third and fourth early in the Australian GP but struggled with high tyre degradation. Schumacher was halted by an early gearbox failure, while his team-mate Nico Rosberg dropped down the order before a last-lap collision with Sergio Perez’s Sauber consigned him to 12th.

    Asked if he was worried about another slump in race pace on Sunday, Schumacher replied: “I guess all of us have certain concerns because these temperatures are pretty new to us.

    “We had some preparation yesterday. We have done a decent job. We have learned a lesson in Australia, reacted and the boys in factory have done a great job so I am looking forward to tomorrow.”

    He added: “I feel good about it and we have chosen a car that should work better in the race – that is the situation that I hope will play out tomorrow.”

    Schumacher said that no matter what happened in the race, Mercedes’ pace so far in both Australia and Malaysia proved it was in substantially better shape than a year ago.

    “It is quite an achievement to see who is behind us,” he said. “We still have to catch up a bit forward.

    “We are reasonably close, not miles away like we were last year so it is up to us to have a good development programme, work methodically and stay focused and let’s see what the season will bring us.”

  3. Toro Rosso maintained that its comparatively poor qualifying result in Malaysia was not any cause for concern, despite failing to match the performance it had produced in Melbourne a week ago.

    After taking 10th and 11th on the Australian Grand Prix grid, at Sepang Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne will start 15th and 18th.

    But Toro Rosso’s chief engineer Laurent Mekies said the result showed how close the midfield is, rather than indicating a slump for his team.

    “We are racing in the same midfield group with Williams, Sauber and Force India and while in Australia we were at the top end of that group, here we are not,” said Mekies.

    “We are only talking about two to three tenths of a second from one end of the group to the other. That means we still have every chance to do well tomorrow.

    “In Jean-Eric’s case he did not really get to do a time, as he locked a wheel and that’s part of the game. Daniel did what he had to, but as it’s so tight, a couple of tenths made the difference. In Melbourne we started ahead of this group and after only one lap, we were at the back, so let’s hope it’s the other way round tomorrow…”

    Ricciardo was similarly sanguine about the result.

    “I think we are more or less where we thought we would be, as we expected Q3 to be a more difficult target here than in Melbourne,” said the Australian. “I am reasonably happy with the lap I did, which was pretty clean and I am not kicking myself thinking I could have done better.

    “Hopefully, we have a good package for the race and I will be trying to nose into the points. We’ve got 56 laps to make up position and yesterday, our long run performance wasn’t bad. But if it rains, then it’s anyone’s game and there will be more opportunities, so that could help.”

    Vergne added that his Q1 exit was entirely his fault.

    “I made a mistake at the first corner, having a massive lock-up on a front wheel. That created so much vibration that I had to come back to the pits and that was my qualifying over,” he said.

    “Looking for something positive, at least it means we have saved one set of new option tyres for the race. There’s also a chance of rain for tomorrow so anything could happen, but whatever the conditions, I feel our car can be competitive in race trim.”


  4. After the embarrassment of not qualifying in the season-opening Grand Prix in Australia, HRT has improved it’s performance with both Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan inside the 107 per cent cut off in Malaysia. Pedro de la Rosa was thrilled with HRT’s progress as provides the story.

    Pedro de la Rosa hailed HRT’s step forward after qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang on Saturday.

    The Spanish squad, which had failed to get its cars on the grid for the season-opening race in Australia, will start the Sepang event from 22nd and 23rd positions.

    De la Rosa, who outqualified team-mate Narain Karthikeyan, praised the team’s progress since Australia.

    The Spaniard, however, is under no illusions for the race, which he reckons will be very hard for HRT.

    “It was a good day,” said de la Rosa. “From the first lap in the morning I felt that the car had improved notably and we improved our times significantly. We’ve lowered our time by more than a second from yesterday to today and every time we modify something new we’re going quicker.

    “We could have improved our times even more during the qualifying session. I was only able to do one lap but it was enough. The important thing was to qualify and we did. The team has proved that in a short amount of days it managed to have the DRS ready and improve the power steering and other aspects of the car.

    “We’ve taken a huge stride and I’m very satisfied because of that. Now we have to see how tomorrow goes in long distance because it will be the first time we string so many laps together, which won’t be easy in this weather.”

    Karthikeyan was also pleased with his day despite some overheating problems – the Indian hoping for rain in tomorrow’s race in order to ease the team’s worries over this issue.

    “The conditions changed a lot from the morning and the track was much more slippery but we qualified for the race, which was our first objective for this weekend and a positive step from Australia,” he said.

    “We had to change our strategy a little bit today because of some heating issues, and it worked, but now we must focus on overcoming those issues and aim to finish the race. It would be good for us if it rained because that keeps the car a bit cooler but, no matter what, we’ll have to give it our best and try to put in a good performance.”

  5. Australian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button reckons that quick thinking in the pits and being flexible on strategy will be vital in Sunday’s race at Sepang, after admitting that he still does not know which Pirelli tyre compound will perform better in the race.

    Button, who once again qualified second to McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton by just 0.15s, said that the extreme heat and humidity has made it impossible to predict the rate of tyre degradation on the medium and hard tyres Pirelli has brought to Malaysia.

    “It’s a tough one for us,” he said. “Physically it’s tough, but also it’s tough on the tyres, and for strategy because the humidity and the heat is so high that you really don’t know how long the tyres are going to work.

    “So you really have to be thinking on your toes, and I think we are pretty good at that.

    “Going into the race it is so difficult to know what to do in terms of the set-up, in terms of the front wing, the tyre pressures. You can get it so wrong and then you are screwed really, and that’s not down to looking after the tyres, it’s down to having the wrong balance.

    “So a lot of hard work tonight to work out where we should be for tomorrow’s race. And strategy we have really got to think on our toes because at the moment we don’t know which tyre we should be using for most of the race.”

    Button added that while he naturally felt confident of his chances of making it two from two starting as he is from the front row, he feels that the unpredictable nature of the race and the blend of strategies around him means that he doesn’t know how much of a factor his ability to manage tyre degradation will be.

    “It is something that I work on but I am not the only driver that works on tyres to try and control degradation so we will see,” he said. “These are very different tyres to what we’ve run before and it’s so hot here so we will see what happens.

    “And there are some different strategies up and down the grid. Sebastian Vettel will be on the prime tyre. When it gets to the first pitstop who knows what tyre we are going to put on? We don’t.

    “There are so many different strategies that could play out during the race and because of the temperature we don’t know which tyre is quicker yet in race trim. It’s going to be about thinking on your toes and whoever does that and is really confident in their decisions is the team that is going to win the race tomorrow.”

    Button said that he wasn’t too disappointed to miss out on pole to Hamilton and revealed that he knew exactly where he had lost the time.

    “Obviously it’s always a shame when you are so close and yet so far from the guy that’s on pole and also your team-mate,” he said. “Lewis as we all know is extremely quick and I just couldn’t get that tenth and a half.

    “I know exactly where it is and it’s been there all weekend – at the exit of Turn 2 – and I just can’t find the pace there. For some reason I just can’t go around that corner!”


  6. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso says KERS failure in qualifying did not cost him places on Malaysian Grand Prix grid. has the details.

    Fernando Alonso suffered a KERS failure in the final part of qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, but the Ferrari driver does not believe it cost him any places on the grid.

    The Spaniard set the ninth fastest time in Q3, meaning he will start eighth thanks to Kimi Raikkonen’s grid penalty for a gearbox change.

    Despite making it through to the final part of qualifying, which his team-mate Felipe Massa again failed to do, Alonso does not believe that a fully functional KERS would have enabled him to climb any higher up the order.

    “It was a good qualifying, because I think we got everything we could out of the car,” said Alonso.

    “I had a KERS problem on my only run in Q3. I don’t think it cost me any places, but it would definitely have made the gap to pole [1.3 seconds] look more realistic.”

    Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali praised Alonso’s efforts in the F2012 in difficult circumstances.”We should regard this result as a glass half full,” he said. “Once again today, Fernando did a great job and it’s a shame that he had a KERS problem, the first in a long time.

    “This prevented him from doing a much better time on a track where this system delivers a significant benefit.

    “We know that we are in difficulty in this early part of the season, therefore we have to look at limiting the damage on track, while working to make the F2012 more competitive in as short a time as possible.”

  7. Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel is hoping the harder prime tyre will work out following a difficult qualifying session at the Malaysian Grand Prix. has the story.

    Sebastian Vettel is hoping his tyre strategy will pay off in the Malaysian Grand Prix after another difficult qualifying session for him.

    The Red Bull driver was the only man in the top ten to use the harder Pirelli tyres for his final run in Q3 after struggling with his car’s handling on the medium compound rubber.

    Although Vettel said that he hadn’t opted to go with the hard tyres for strategic reasons but because he was quicker with them during qualifying, the world champion is still hoping it will be beneficial for him.

    Vettel qualified in sixth position, the same place where he had qualified in the first race in Australia, but will start from fifth because of a penalty for Kimi Raikkonen.

    “I didn’t feel comfortable on the soft, and we decided to go on the hard,” said Vettel. “Hopefully tomorrow that will be an advantage, we’ll see. Hopefully I can go longer and that gives me a bit of flexibility in the first stint. We’ll see where we are in the pack and then we do our best and go from there.”

    Vettel, who finished in second place in the season-opening grand prix, is optimistic Red Bull’s race form will be stronger than it was in qualifying.

    “I think in terms of race pace we should be quite a bit better off than today. But in terms of qualifying they are at the front and so they are the ones to beat. They have a competitive car. They had a solid winter and they are in good form. All this makes it difficult for everyone to beat them.

    “I think we have as many new tyres as the other top cars in front, so it should be a good race. We were much closer on Friday in terms of race pace and also last weekend, so that gives us confidence for tomorrow.”

  8. Fernando Alonso was positive about Ferrari’s progress after qualifying in ninth position for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

    The Spaniard had started from 12th place in the opening race in Australia, but he made it in to Q3 in today’s grid-deciding session at Sepang and will start from eighth place following a penalty for Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen.

    The Ferrari driver said he was encouraged to see his team was closer to the front during the second qualifying segment.

    “I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Alonso. “We were one second off pole position in Q2 and today we were sixth tenths and a half, so I think these three tenths is quite encouraging for us and quite a positive sign that we are moving in the right direction.”

    The two-time champion, who finished in fifth place in Melbourne, is expecting to have stronger race pace again on Sunday, although he conceded Ferrari has to improve fast if it is to stay in the championship fight.

    “Qualifying I think went well for us. Even if the result is the maximum we can achieve for now, it’s not enough for our expectations. We need to improve quickly,” he said.

    “In the race in Melbourne we saw a better pace than during the rest of the weekend. We know the degradation is quite high here in Sepang and in Melbourne and during winter testing perhaps we had a little bit more degradation than our main competitors. We start in eighth, but we have Kimi behind and he’s much quicker than us so it will be tough.

    “But in the race we normally are in a better place and hopefully tomorrow will repeat the performance.”


  9. Williams driver Bruno Senna is considering the idea of running a two-stop strategy in the race. has the details.

    Bruno Senna believes that anybody making proper use of a two-stop strategy during Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix will have a big advantage over those stopping three times.

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli is expecting most drivers make three stops during the race, with the heat and humidity at Sepang causing high levels of degradation to the medium compound rubber.

    But after qualifying, Williams driver Senna said that if a car can be set up to look after its tyres well, then the time gained through not making a third stop will more than off-set any pace loss during a stint.

    When asked by AUTOSPORT whether a two-stop strategy was possible at Sepang, Senna said: “It will depend on the tyre wear. We have a good car in terms of tyre management and if you can gamble and make a two stop work then it can be a big advantage.

    “We know that an extra [third] stop is a penalty, so we now have to sit down and check with the strategy guy whether we’ll be able to do it or not. It’s a tough call, just like trying to do one stop in Melbourne, but if you can make it work, it will pay off big time.”

    Senna will start Sunday’s race from 13th on the grid – two places and 0.3s behind his Williams team-mate Pastor Maldonado.

    He said that he was unconcerned after being outqualified by his former GP2 rival for a second race in a row, adding that the race is all that matters in terms of championship points.

    “We understand that Pastor’s been here for a year and he’s very good at getting a quick lap out of the car, so there’s no particular pressure on that,” Senna said.

    “They’re expecting us to be very close to each other in the race, and that’s what I think will happen as well. But qualifying is a very special affair. Having a good relationship with the engineers and knowing the team well has an impact on the decisions you make for qualifying and the race. We’re getting there.”

  10. Ferrari driver Felipe Massa is finally feeling more comfortable with the F2012. has the story.

    Felipe Massa believes he has finally got a Ferrari he feels comfortable with after making more changes ahead of Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying.

    The Brazilian failed to join his team-mate Fernando Alonso in Q3 at Sepang, instead having to settle for 12th on the grid. However, he believes that the progress he made with the F2012 ahead of qualifying will enable him to make more gains in the race and for the rest of the season.

    “It was positive to make a normal qualifying, to have the car we expect to have,” Massa said on Saturday afternoon. “We changed everything we could to have the car we expected, and qualifying was the first time I drove the car as it is supposed to be.

    “If you see everything that has happened from Australia to here, it was definitely a good effort and now we are in a good direction to have the best that we can with this car.

    “Now I’m looking forward to improving what I have. This is the first time since we started the season that I had what I expected from the car.”

    Massa added that his problems with the F2012 since the season kicked off have taken priority over any question marks over his future.

    “The biggest frustration is when you go in the car and you don’t feel what you know,” he said. “You don’t know what is going on.

    “I don’t get frustrated with the pressure, all the comments and all the rumours. That’s not my problem.

    “It’s frustrating when I cannot do what I know I am able to do. That’s why I am more happy now, and now we need to go forward.”

  11. Kimi Raikkonen believes his Lotus had the potential to be inside the top two in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, had not made a mistake on his Q3 flying lap at Sepang.

    Raikkonen will start from 10th on the grid in Sunday’s race after the team was forced to change his car’s gearbox, but Raikkonen believes his pace was good enough to contend for pole; on paper, at least.

    Asked by AUTOSPORT if he could have been one of the two fastest drivers in qualifying, the winner of this event in 2003 replied: “Yeah for sure. It’s [his time] a tenth away from the top three and for sure we lost that easily.

    “I got out of shape in two places and lost maybe a tenth or two, and on a perfect lap for sure it could have been two tenths faster, but it’s not often that you get everything right like that so…”

    The Finn also revealed that he was happier with his car after overnight changes to the floor and repairs to his KERS, which hadn’t functioned properly during Friday’s practice.

    “It worked today, so I mean it didn’t work yesterday, we had some issues with KERS and all sorts of things,” he explained. “Now it is normal and it’s fine. I don’t think in Melbourne… it didn’t feel something [right]. We ran the same floor, and then we changed the floor yesterday because we had some issues and suddenly it’s like it was in testing.”

    The 2007 world champion was quick on race pace on his return to F1 at Melbourne last week, where he finished seventh, and though he hopes to be able to achieve a similar speed on Sunday, he was cautious about predicting a podium place.

    “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll tell you tomorrow. I mean the cars in front of us, they are fast, but I think we were pretty good in the race in Melbourne in the long runs. Yesterday I had a good speed in the long runs so we will see.

    “It depends, a lot can happen in the first two corners, if you can get through clean and with no problems. That’s why it would have been nicer to start closer to the front.

    “Yesterday in my long run the car was pretty good, even though we didn’t have KERS and the car probably wasn’t perfect overall. But then the soft I don’t know.

    “If it is the same like yesterday I think we have a pretty good car.”


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