By Alan Davies, Formula One correspondent
Saturday, March 24, 2012
LEWIS Hamilton looks to convert pole position in the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix into his 18th Formula 1 victory.
The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ace from Hertfordshire claimed pole in hot and humid Sepang with a blistering lap in qualifying today (Saturday).
He’ll start on the front row tomorrow (Sunday) with McLaren colleague Jenson Button alongside him.
After losing first place to Button on the run to the first corner in Melbourne, Hamilton is keenly aware of the importance of making his pole position count in Malaysia.
“Tomorrow, there’s a long haul down to Turn One, but I’ll be making sure to get a good launch and stay ahead cleanly,” said the 2008 F1 world champion.
* 149th pole for McLaren
* 70th pole for McLaren-Mercedes
* 24th pole for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
* 21st pole for Lewis Hamilton
* 2nd front-row lock-out of 2012
1st pole for Lewis in Malaysia
“Anyway, the key will be to look after your tyres in the race – they’ll have a tough time, especially on 150kg of fuel.
“But we’ve hopefully got a car that has better race pace than it does qualifying pace.
“It’s been a good weekend for the team so far, but we’ll keep pushing massively for another strong result tomorrow.”
Hamilton clocked a 1m 36.219s on option tyres with his first run in Q3 for the 21st pole of his F1 career and second of the season, after also starting first in the Australian GP in Melbourne last week.
However, he felt he could have gone even faster.
With 2009 world champion Button second quickest in qualifying, McLaren claimed their second front-row lock-out of the season.
“Qualifying is an intense experience and, as drivers, we all put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves, but it’s probably the part of the race weekend I most enjoy,” said Hamilton, 27.
“On my quickest lap in Q3, I lost a little time in the final corner – maybe a tenth and a half – so it’s massively encouraging to still be in the position I’m in.
“It’s great for the team to have another one-two, too: that’s a huge achievement from everybody, but we just need to make sure we keep pushing because the guys behind us won’t give up.”
After struggling a bit for pace in qualifying last season, Button was delighted to secure another front-row spot, just as he did around the Albert Park track in Melbourne last weekend.
“I was pretty happy with my quick lap but it’ll be a long, hot afternoon tomorrow so I’ll be working hard to ensure I’m properly prepared and hydrated for the race,” said Button.
“Anyway, the most important thing is that we’re on the front row. It’s a long race tomorrow – I think anybody in the top four has a chance of winning this race, but our long-run pace in practice was reasonably consistent and I think we’ve got a lot of confidence as a team in what we’re doing.”
"There’s a long haul down to Turn One, but I’ll be making sure to get a good launch and stay ahead cleanly."
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh praised both his drivers after qualifying but acknowledges the real business takes place from 9am BST tomorrow.
“Today was very close and very tough. Lewis did a fantastic first lap in Q3 and Jenson pulled it out of the bag at the very end of the session – both drivers did a fantastic job under huge pressure,” said Whitmarsh.
“Lewis could probably have found another tenth on his fastest run, but he wasn’t going to take any risks at the end.”
Whitmarsh also confirmed he will allow his men to race each other on Sunday.
He said: “Jenson and Lewis are free to race into the first corner.
“After last weekend, I’m sure that Lewis will want to come out of the first corner in the lead, but it’s a long and difficult race ahead of both of them tomorrow.
“I’m proud of every person in the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team – the front row is a good place to be, but the odds are very finely stacked: we’ll have a fight on our hands tomorrow, that’s for sure.”
The 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix starts at 9am on Sunday.