Lewis Hamilton scored his 70th career pole position with an important qualifying session at Sepang, as his championship rival Sebastian Vettel was forced to withdraw with Ferrari power issue.
It was a solid qualifying result from Hamilton as Mercedes was struggling to get its upgraded Formula 1 car working properly throughout the free practice sessions, but turned things around just in time for Hamilton to get the job done in qualifying.
Hamilton’s first flying lap in Q3 proved just enough in the end, as Kimi Raikkonen – who was fastest of all in Q2 – fell short by just 0.045 seconds after locking up at the final corner.
The other Silver Arrows of Valtteri Bottas was not so comfortable as Hamilton in qualifying, experiencing trouble in particularly through the second sector. Bottas ended up only fifth fastest, behind both Red Bulls.
Max Verstappen split Raikkonen and Hamilton in Q2, but fell back in Q3, ending up third fastest, almost half a second away from pole. Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was only half a tenth further back in fourth.
Vettel should have been among the fight for pole, having set the pace in Friday’s practice session, but his Ferrari suffered an engine problem in final practice, so the team worked through the break between sessions to change his engine.
Vettel made it out for the start of Q1, but reported a loss of drive, which he described as feeling “like I have no turbo”, that he couldn’t fix with the switch changes suggested by his team.
Vettel was forced back to the pits without setting a time and couldn’t return to the track, leaving him last in the classification.
Esteban Ocon took advantage of Vettel’s absence to post the sixth fastest time for Force India, ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren-Honda, Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault, Force India team-mate Sergio Perez, and the McLaren-Honda of Fernando Alonso.
Felipe Massa and Jolyon Palmer were both knocked out of the top ten in the final moments of Q2, as Perez, Vandoorne and Alonso all leaped ahead with quicker lap times.
Massa ended up an agonising 0.024 seconds away from making the cut in P11, ahead of Palmer, Williams team-mate Lance Stroll – who complained of a bad out-lap compromising his second run – and the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly.
Neither Toro Rosso driver found time on their second Q2 runs, and Gasly ended up qualifying just 0.156 seconds behind Sainz for his Formula 1 debut, though by lapping slower than he managed in Q1.
Haas team-mates Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen failed to make it through to Q2, by more than three tenths of a second, as faster rivals made late improvements and knocked them into the drop zone.
Pascal Wehrlein got his Sauber to within half a tenth of a second of beating Magnussen to 17th place on the grid.
Marcus Ericsson was almost half a second slower for Sauber and slowest of those to set a time.
Such a contrast between the championship contenders. Lewis Hamilton achieved a new lap record at Sepang and scoring his 70th pole position in Formula 1. While Sebastian Vettel was unable to compete due to engine issues. Hopefully the Ferrari driver can fight back in the sake of the title.
Qualifying standings for the Malaysian Grand Prix:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m30.076s
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m30.121s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m30.541s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m30.595s
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m30.758s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m31.478s
7 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda 1m31.582s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m31.607s
9 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m31.658s
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m31.704s
11 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m32.034s
12 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m32.100s
13 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m32.307s
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1m32.402s
15 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Renault 1m32.558s
16 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m33.308s
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m33.434s
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.483s
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.970s
20 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari No time