The momentum in the battle for the 2017 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship continues to swing in Lewis Hamilton’s favour after the Briton took a seventieth career pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel right at the back of the field following an engine issue.
For the first time this weekend, the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team showed some true pace, and Hamilton’s best lap of 1:30.076s was a new track record, and denied Kimi Raikkonen pole position by just 0.045 seconds.
A small lock-up heading into the final turn may have cost the Scuderia Ferrari driver the pole position, but the bigger talking point within the Maranello-based squad was the failure of Vettel to even set a lap time in Qualifying 1!
After suffering issues late during final practice earlier in the day, Ferrari switched the power unit in the German’s car, only for something to fail on him mid-way through his first flying lap, which resulted in Vettel returning slowly to the pits.
There were worried looks on his mechanics faces as the session went on, and they were justified as he failed to return to the track, and will start twentieth and last on Sunday, particularly disappointing as he has been the quickest driver for much of the weekend in Malaysia.
Hamilton, who had not been anywhere near the front of the field in any of the free practice sessions, appeared to have something in reserve when it came to qualifying, and the championship leader will lead the field away on Sunday as he bids to extend his twenty-eight point lead over Vettel in the championship.
Behind the front row pairing, Red Bull Racing will share row two, with Max Verstappen once again getting the better of Daniel Ricciardo, with the birthday boy finishing 0.054 seconds clear of the Australian, while Valtteri Bottas was unable to match his Mercedes team-mate, the Finn ending up 0.682 seconds down on Hamilton in fifth.
Esteban Ocon will start an excellent sixth for the Sahara Force India F1 Team, with the Frenchman finishing just ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne, who impressed in qualifying again to qualify seventh for the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team, while Nico Hülkenberg of the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team was eighth ahead of Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso.
Just 0.024 seconds was enough to see Alonso deny Felipe Massa progression through to the top ten shootout, but the Williams Martini Racing driver will start eleventh, just alongside the second Renault of Jolyon Palmer and ahead of team-mate Lance Stroll, who will start his first Malaysian Grand Prix from thirteenth.
Neither Scuderia Toro Rosso driver was able to progress out of Qualifying 2, with Carlos Sainz Jr. ending up fourteenth, just 0.156 seconds ahead of debutant Pierre Gasly, who had outpaced his Spanish team-mate initially before dropping behind him when grid position was on the line.
Neither Haas F1 Team driver made it out of the first stage of qualifying, with Romain Grosjean set to start sixteenth ahead of team-mate Kevin Magnussen, while the Sauber F1 Team were again the slowest of those who set times, Pascal Wehrlein almost half a second ahead of Marcus Ericsson.
But Vettel’s failure to set a time leaves the German at the very back, and for Ferrari this will be an extra embarrassment as it meant five Ferrari-powered cars will fill the final five spots on the grid on Sunday.
Hamilton will have the advantage on Sunday, but can Vettel fight through the field to minimise the points loss and stay in contention for the championship, or will the wheels continue to fall off the Ferrari drivers’ campaign?
Sepang International Circuit Qualifying Result
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