2011 Malaysian GP – Qualifying Results


Sebastian Vettel underlined his brilliance as a Q3 specialist once again, snatching pole position away from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton in the dying moments of the qualifying session at Sepang. Mark Webber, despite showing immense pace in Friday practice, could do no better than third, ahead of Jenson Button. The final practice session in the morning led to speculation that the MP4-26 could now take the fight to the brilliant RB7, and the British car lived up to the expectations, pushing Red Bull every inch of the way in Q3.

For  a while it looked as though Hamilton had broken the RB7’s stranglehold on qualifying with a 1:34.974 lap, the first under the 1:35s, until the world champion went a tenth quicker. Ferrari were more than half a second away from the top 4, with Fernando Alonso the best of the rest on 5th. Massa topped the times in Q1, but fell to 7th in Q3. Nick Heidfeld was impressive in the Renault, splitting the Ferraris, while his team mate lines up alongside Massa. 9th was Rosberg, who knocked out his team mate Michael Schumacher on the way to a top 10 spot in Q2, in a poor performance by the Mercedes team in their title sponsor’s home race.

Kamui Kobayashi, a regular fixture in the top 10, didn’t disappoint, and the Toro Rossos did well to get 12th and 13th places ahead of both Force India and Williams. Paul di Resta once again put in a better performance compared to his experienced team mate, but his team was barely ahead of a struggling Williams squad, who were the last of the established teams. Lotus did a fantastic job to get both cars within a second of Williams, and have pulled out a solid margin of 2 seconds to Virgin and HRT. The Spanish team, meanwhile got both cars on the starting grid for tomorrow’s race, with Karthikeyan and Liuzzi lapping within the 107% time.

At the moment, Red Bull and McLaren seem evenly matched, and it is not yet clear why the expected RB7 qualifying advantage never materialised. Perhaps it was a problem with KERS, or the higher amount of drag produced by the Red Bull on the two long straights, but whatever it was, it has allowed McLaren a realistic shot at winning the race tomorrow. Although storm clouds gathered near the circuit towards the end, the rain stayed away, depriving the midfield teams an opportunity to turn the grid upside down. And if the widely predicted thunderstorms keep away during the race as well, the onus will be on Pirelli’s degradation rate to provide on-track action.

The Red Bulls and Ferraris are on the clean side of the track, while the McLarens and Renaults are on the dirtier side. The Red Bull drivers will have to make a flawless start to hold off the KERS running teams into Turn 1. Even then, expect Lewis Hamilton to deploy his DRS and KERS into the two long straights and fly past the RB7 if needed. Vettel and Webber will have to really dig deep to hold off the McLarens tomorrow – Hamilton is the best overtaker out there, and Button is extremely kind to his tyres. It’s a four way battle for the win at the moment, but I hope a rainstorm throws it wide open and gives us a race to remember.

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