McLaren had a disastrous qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix today because, strangely for an English team, they made the mistake of believing a weather forecast.
Jenson Button will start from seventeenth and Lewis Hamilton starts twentieth. One consolation for the Woking-based team is that the two Ferrari’s will start either side of Hamilton, having made the same mistake with their qualifying strategy.
Jenson Button ended Q1 beached in a gravel trap and, despite setting a time fast enough to qualify for Q2, couldn’t participate in the second part of the session as his car was being hoisted off the track by a crane. He explained why the team didn’t get him to set a ‘banker’ lap right at the beginning of the session when the track conditions were better. “We thought the first rainstorm was it, and there was nothing else coming, so we waited. I guess events proved it was the wrong thing to do.
“My first lap on Inters felt okay. The thing is, you get no real warning; the first sector of the lap was quite dry, then you get to the fast left-right and it's really wet. I just aquaplaned off and got stuck in the gravel. I couldn't do anything about it. I just hope I haven't damaged anything on the car because I was sat in the gravel with the engine running for some time, hoping to get pulled out.
“It was a strange, disappointing session – both Lewis and I went out early. But, even so, I'm in front of three of my world championship rivals on tomorrow's grid, and I suppose that's the best way of looking at it.”
Hamilton didn’t fall off the track completely, but did manage to spin in the last corner on one of his laps. He was also sat in the garage in the early stages of qualifying when other teams making use of the better track conditions. The Brit was pretty philosophical about the whole situation. “This was just one of those days. It had been a very good weekend for us up until qualifying started, and the simple fact is that we didn't expect it to rain any more. We went out at a similar time to the other top teams, and as a result quite a lot of us were all out of luck.
“By the time I got out there, there were lots of yellow flags about, so you just couldn't nail it – and then it started to rain more heavily. You couldn't feel a thing -, it was so, so slippery. It was easy to come off – I had a spin on my first lap, in fact – but I did the best job I could in the circumstances.
“I'd been fastest all weekend, but what can we do? We've just got to shrug it off. And, as I always, say, I'll never give up. That's why I'm not only focusing on the fast cars around me, I'm focusing on everyone – including those who are quite a few rows in front of me.
“So I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and I'm going to race my heart out.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh explained the team’s reaction to their lowly grid positions and the reasoning behind the shocking strategy decision. “To qualify only 17th and 20th with what today's final practice session had clearly demonstrated was a highly competitive car was of course very disappointing for all concerned.
“So why did it happen? It happened because several teams, having consulted the weather radar, believed that the rain that was falling just prior to the start of Q1 would pass through and that the end of Q1 would be therefore by much drier. As we now know, it didn't turn out like that. With hindsight it would therefore have been better if we'd sent our cars out at the beginning of Q1, instead of waiting for what the weather radar had told us would be drier and faster conditions.
“Having said all that, we're now looking forward to a very exciting and hopefully very eventful race in which Jenson and Lewis, who are two of the most determined racers in the sport today, can produce a result for us that's significantly better than our qualifying performance this afternoon.”
Photo credit: McLaren