Hamilton heads second all-McLaren front row
24 March 2012 – Lewis Hamilton has sealed his second pole position within the space of a week, again heading McLaren team-mate Jenson Button in Malaysia. Michael Schumacher will start third for Mercedes, sharing Row 2 with the first Red Bull of Mark Webber. Felipe Massa was eliminated in Q2 but both HRT cars qualified for the first time in 2012.
Heading to sultry Sepang, there was more than one burning question on the lips of all who graced the Malaysian paddock. However the only burning overnight was at the Lotus hospitality unit, where a fire broke out and destroyed much of the motorhome, including one of Kimi Räikkönen’s helmets. The team has now relocated to a temporary unit.
Caterham had hoped by Q2 by Malaysia at the latest, but the green and yellow squad was again knocked out at the earliest possible point, with Heikki Kovalainen being demoted to last after passing cars illegally in Australia. At the back, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan were inside the 107 percent threshold but the biggest Q1 surprise was Jean-Éric Vergne; the Toro Rosso rookie failed to make the cut and, despite his promising time on Friday, starts only 18th.
Pastor Maldonado led the eliminees in the second phase of the hour, as rain threatened throughout but failed to arrive; the Venezuelan blew his first hot lap by running off at Turn 11 and was never able to make up the lost ground. Just ahead, World Champion Sebastian Vettel was tenth and a shining example of how front-runner mistakes can be severely punished by the tight midfield pack this year. Also out in Q2 was Ferrari’s Felipe Massa – despite a new chassis - and Brazilian compatriot Bruno Senna.
Paul di Resta this time out-qualifies Force India partner Nico Hülkenberg, as the pair sandwich the leading Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo. Sergio Pérez managed his first top ten qualifying of the year, but Sauber team-mate Kamui Kobayashi was frustrated with 17th place.
As the first Q3 runs came, Hamilton immediately stamped his authority on the field, determined to make amends after losing victory in Australia mainly because of a bad start. The Stevenage man went quickest as Kimi Räikkönen proved Lotus’ pace; unfortunately for the Finn, he could manage only fifth on his second run and this translates to tenth on the grid due to a five-place grip penalty for a gearbox change.
Fernando Alonso knew that he could not compete with the leading runners and qualified ninth, which becomes eighth thanks to Räikkönen’s demotion. Pérez also moves up and heads the fifth grid row from the 2007 World Champion. Ahead, Nico Rosberg is out-qualified by Mercedes team-mate Schumacher once again, and Romain Grosjean follows up from third on the grid in Melbourne with sixth at Sepang.
With Button a tenth and a half behind Hamilton as Schumacher proved to be the McLaren’s closest enemy, Mark Webber was quicker than Vettel for the second consecutive qualifying session; title holders Red Bull therefore line up in fourth and fifth positions. Curiously, Vettel elected for the more durable but slower Hard tyre compound for his fastest lap, on which he will start Sunday’s race and could take advantage of his alternative strategy.
Lewis Hamilton’s 21st career pole moves him ahead of 1996 Champion Damon Hill and former arch-rival Fernando Alonso, to 11th position in the all-time rankings. Today's result also marks McLaren's first pole position in Malaysia.
GPUpdate TV video:
Sepang track guide with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton
Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix begins at 5pm local time (GMT +7) and can be followed through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Race Report