Saturday, 24 March 2012

Hamilton on pole again as marvellous McLaren master Malaysia

Lewis Hamilton made it two pole pole positions out of two with another great performance in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Hamilton's second pole of the year was McLaren's first at Kuala Lumpur, and to add to the Woking team's happiness, it was made another one-two in qualifying with Jenson Button lining up on the front row alongside Hamilton. One of the big stars of qualifying though was Michael Schumacher, who put the pacy Mercedes into third on the grid, his first top three finish in qualifying since his comeback in 2010.

Vergne was elminiated in Q1
In the first part of qualifying, Mercedes looked the best. They were at the top of the timesheets until plenty of drivers realised they would have to do second runs to be absolutely certain of a place in Q2. These included Mark Webber and Felipe Massa: Webber was as low as seventeenth at one point on his first run, before he came out again and set the fastest time of the session on his second run. Felipe Massa was also in trouble, he was actually in the drop zone, in eighteenth place, and 1.1 seconds behind his team mate and facing the serious threat of elimination in the first part of qualifying. Both Ferrari drivers went out on the softer tyres and ensured their progression into Q2. Massa's safety came at the expense of Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, who locked up at the first corner on his flying lap, and will start eighteenth. He went out with the usual suspects. Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov are nineteenth and twentieth for Caterham, ahead of the two Marussias, where Timo Glock beat Charles Pic. Both HRTs made it into the 107% time today, meaning they can start the race tomorrow. De La Rosa was in by a full second, Karthikeyan by just three tenths.

Massa's poor form continued with twelfth
The second part of qualifying was disrupted by Pastor Maldonado: The Venezuelan went off at Turn Eleven on his first run, which caused problems for both him and other drivers. Lewis Hamilton was one of the drivers close behind him, and he was worried about the possibility of facing a penalty for going through the yellow flag zone. “I didn’t see any yellow flags,” he told his team over the radio. “We saw there was no time to react whatsoever,” they responded. Maldonado and some other drivers who needed to complete a second run had to back off and wait for the yellow flags to disappear. Massa's last run got him into the shoot-out - but only temporarily. His team mate Fernando Alonso delivered a late fast lap to eliminate Massa, and make it no Q3s out of two for Massa in 2012. The Mercedes drivers left it late to set their last laps, but they were comfortably through, as Kimi Raikkonen topped the session. So Pastor Maldondo starts eleventh, ahead of Massa. Bruno Senna was thirteenth for Williams, ahead of Paul di Resta, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg and Kamui Kobayashi.

Vettel could be a big challenge for McLaren tomorrow
Kimi Raikkonen topped Q2 and he was the first to set a lap in Q3, but took too much kerb at Turn Seven, and was slower than his Q2 lap. Both McLarens got past him, first Button and then Hamilton, who went fastest with a time of 1.36.219 despite locking his front left tyre at the last corner. The Mercedes drivers went for a different idea and went on a one-lap run. Schumacher got up to second just behind Hamilton, while Rosberg once again cracked under pressure in qualifying, and was only fourth with a scrappy lap. Just like in Melbourne, Hamilton's first effort was good enough for pole, but Jenson Button came and pipped Schumacher to second. Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen set times which were identical to each other, both doing a 1.36.461. The Australian was the first to set the time and will start fourth, once again outqualifying his Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel. Raikkonen though faces a five place grid drop for a gearbox change, and will start tenth. Vettel qualified sixth once again, but is on the more durable harder tyres, so may have an advantage, and starts fifth. Romain Grosjean is seventh in the Lotus, but starts sixth after his team mate's penalty. Rosberg qualified eighth but starts seventh, ahead of Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and the penalised Kimi Raikkonen.

A brilliant session once again, and it promises to be an enthralling race tomorrow. At least three teams will fancy a shot at victory in the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix.

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