As so often is the case at Sepang, the climatic extreme took centre stage, as the skies proved just as entertaining as the cars on track. However, take nothing away from the Qualifying session, which was a blockbuster, enhanced by the proverbial double six rolled into the equation by stormy conditions. Q3 was well worth the rain delay as Mercedes’ straggle hold on the front row of the grid was breeched by the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel – the first time a Ferrari has claimed one of the first two spots on the grid since the Malaysian Grand Prix of 2013. Nico Rosberg was the man to lose out, dropping to P3 while Lewis Hamilton reached the milestone of 40 career pole positions, by a margin small enough to make even the reigning champion sweat.
Up A Creek Without A Paddle
Q1 may have escaped the incoming storm, but as Q2 commenced, drivers had one lap to state their claim to a top ten placing prior to the downpour and ultimately, the majority of the likely candidates made the grade. One unexpected casualty was Kimi Raikkonen, who has looked to be the biggest threat to the Mercedes duo this weekend.
The Finn, who was held up by the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson on his one and only lap will start tomorrow in P11. I was bitterly disappointed that we did not see Kimi’s full potential today and judging by how close his teammate was to Hamilton’s pole time, (just 0.05 seconds adrift,) we may have seen Raikkonen’s first pole since the French Grand Prix way back in 2008. His midfield starting position is likely to have eradicated his chances of taking victory tomorrow, which in turn, takes the heat off of Mercedes. They now only have one Ferrari to evade.
However, that Ferrari could prove to be a stubborn one. With a spring in his step, Vettel has re-discovered the kind of form which saw him win four world titles and with a credible prospect of his first race win since 2013 tomorrow, I doubt that he will roll-over and accept the bottom step of the podium. If he can stretch the tyre life to the extent that Kimi managed on Friday, then Ferrari’s new management may have another objective to tick off of the ‘road-to-recovery’ list.
Renault Should Start Making Powerboat Engines…
As I acknowledged yesterday, Red Bull have enjoyed somewhat of a step forward this weekend. As if the improved drivability yesterday was not enough of a surprise, the wet weather in Qualifying seemed to suit the RB11 – conditions which should theoretically accentuate the poor power delivery of the powertrain. In addition, it was not just Daniel Ricciardo puling off his best Honey Badger impression and hauling the car along – Daniil Kvyat was also equally impressive as the duo will line up in fourth and fifth for tomorrow’s race.
Renault will also take inspiration from Max Verstappen’s headline making performance to line-up P6 – and in doing so – equalling the best qualifying result for a teenager in F1. As if he hasn’t made enough waves (pun intended) already, today’s drive was sublime. In tough conditions he applied himself brilliantly, using the karting lines which should, admittedly, be fresh in his mind, to good effect. I am once again, massively impressed.
How good is he going to be once he knows the tracks AND can drive home from them?
Raining On Their Parade
Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas must be the biggest critics of Bernie’s ex-suggestion of implementing a sprinkler system, as once again, Williams struggled in the wet. It is a trait which is a hangover from last year and saw them falter in Q3, with the latter in P9 while the Brazilian fared only a little better in P7. The result is significantly down on my expectations for where Williams would be, irrespective of weather and that leaves them with work to do tomorrow.
From a neutral’s perspective, it makes for a fascinating race. Both cars are out of position and along with Raikkonen, will need to adopt a contra-strategy or battle past rivals who will certainly not yield. In addition, Carlos Sainz and Felipe Nasr suffered similarly disappointing days after costly lock-ups in the second and first part of qualifying respectively, and can expect to make up ground throughout tomorrow’s race.
The ingredients are certainly poised to make the Malaysian Grand Prix a fine spectacle – important, considering the negativity surrounding the entertainment value in Australia.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:39.690
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.184
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 0.555
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.576
5 Felipe Massa Williams 0.701
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 0.716
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 0.900
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 0.911
9 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1.299
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1.510
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1.516
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1.902
13 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 2.086
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 2.114
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 2.301
16 Sergio Perez Force India 2.410
17 Felipe Nasr Sauber 2.427
18 Jenson Button McLaren 2.629
19 Roberto Merhi Manor 6.957
20 Will Stevens Manor 7.369
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:49.834
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.074
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 0.465
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1.707
5 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 2.117
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 2.147
7 Felipe Massa Williams 2.639
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 3.147
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams 3.345
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 3.427
11 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:42.173
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:42.198
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:43.023
14 Sergio Perez Force India 1:43.469
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:43.701
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:41.308
17 Jenson Button McLaren 1:41.636
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:41.746
19 Roberto Merhi Manor 1:46.677
20 Will Stevens Manor No time