F1 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying result: Hamilton on pole
- Credit: Mercedes-Benz
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position in qualifying for the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix in a dramatic session in Sepang today (Saturday).
The 30-year-old Mercedes driver from Hertfordshire made it back-to-back poles this season on a drying track, with Silver Arrow colleague Nico Rosberg third fastest.
Sebastian Vettel split the Mercedes drivers at the Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur, to claim second place on the grid for Ferrari. Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo will line up on the second row alongside Rosberg in fourth place.
Daniil Kvyat qualified fifth for Red Bull with Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen sixth ahead of Williams man Felipe Massa.
Romain Grosjean qualified eighth for Lotus but was hit afterwards with a two-place grid penalty for an infringement, and will now start behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber.
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Today’s pole marks the 40th P1 grid slot for Hamilton in Formula One, his 14th for the Silver Arrows and third at the Malaysian Grand Prix. The qualifying result also marks the 250th front-row start for Mercedes-Benz power in Formula One.
Both Mercedes drivers successfully cleared the dry Q1 session with a single run on option tyres, with heavy rain early in Q2 bringing a delay of more than 30 minutes to proceedings.
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A dramatic top 10 showdown in drying conditions then saw Hamilton edge Vettel’s Ferrari into P2 by under a tenth, with Rosberg a fraction shy in P3.
After qualifying Hamilton said: “I’m very happy with the pole lap. I didn’t quite put the second lap together so I was hoping the first one would be good enough and luckily it was.
“I love these kind of conditions – it makes it more of a lottery.
“I nearly didn’t make it through Q2 when I got caught up with the Ferrari and the Sauber. It’s so easy to get caught out and that makes it even more exciting.”
As for Sunday’s race in Sepang, Hamilton added: “I’m looking forward to tomorrow. The car feels great and the heat always makes this race into a challenge with the strategy.
“The temperatures make it hard on the tyres and last year we made three stops, so it’s tough on the cars as well as the drivers.
“We’ll also be starting earlier in the day compared to qualifying today so, providing it stays dry, it will be a very hot race.
“It’s not the easiest place to overtake so the start will be crucial – especially with the long run down to Turn One.”
Looking at his rivals, Hamilton said: “Ferrari have made some big improvements and it’s great to be lining up alongside a four time world champion, so it should be an interesting race.”
Rosberg paid tribute to Hamilton and Vettel after missing out on a front-row spot. He said: “Two other guys just did a better job, so it was a bit annoying for me today.
“Lewis did well and especially Sebastian, who was surprising in the Ferrari, so hats off for him.
“But I think I have a good chance tomorrow at the start as I will be on the clean side of the grid. I will try to attack Seb off the line and then there are some good opportunities also to catch Lewis.
“This race will be very demanding on the tyres, so we will maybe see three pit stops and there is always a chance of taking a different strategy.
“So I very much look forward to the race. I will push hard.”
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport chief Toto Wolff explained the team’s qualifying strategy.
He said: “After a smooth Q1, it proved pretty difficult to get the lap right in Q2 and Q3 because of the conditions.
“In Q3, we did a one-lap run with both drivers, then planned to do the time on the second lap of the final run when the track would have been driest.
“But in hindsight, the tyres were past their best and we were lucky that Lewis’ time from the first run was enough to get pole.
“So in the circumstances, to get P1 for Lewis and P3 for Nico is a good result.
“But as always, you get no points on Saturday. We need to make the most out of these starting positions in what will be a long and demanding race.”
Team technical director Paddy Lowe added: “Wet qualifying sessions are always very difficult to manage. You can easily make big mistakes that cost you badly.
“We ran a good strategy at the various stages of qualifying but surprisingly the track did not improve through Q3.
“Lewis got his pole position in the first run and while Nico did improve, neither got the best out of their car in that second run.
“I think we could have claimed the first row with a slightly different plan but we are really happy that we have two cars in good positions to compete for a strong race result tomorrow.”
While Mercedes qualified first and third, McLaren-Honda will start from 17th and 18th on the grid for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix, with Jenson Button just ahead of Fernando Alonso.
Both McLaren drivers did two runs apiece in the opening Q1 session. Button continued to shave tenths off his lap-times throughout the session, eventually finishing with a 1m 41.636s best.
By contrast, Alonso proved immediately quick, setting his fastest time of the session on his first flying lap, but failing to improve after fitting fresh tyres and having another go.
Despite qualifying in the same positions as in Australia, McLaren’s pace relative to the front-runners improved. In Melbourne, the team’s cars were 2.790s off the fastest Q1 time (103.2%), while today they were 2.262s away (102.3%), on a significantly longer lap.
Nevertheless, Button said: “It was very difficult to get temperature into the tyres during the qualifying session – I really struggled in the first sector on every run I did, but was able to make the car work in the second and third sectors.
“Before qualifying, I think we’d have hoped to be a bit closer to the cars in front of us, but this weekend has seen us take a massive step forward in performance.
“Also, I think our race pace – and our consistency over a long run – look like giving us a little extra. I’d like to think we could get closer to some of the cars in front tomorrow. That’ll be something to look forward to.”
The 2009 world champion added: “There are a lot of positives to take from this weekend: we’ve made a big step forwards in terms of pace. There’s more to come from the engine and the aero package, but we know what to do.”
McLaren colleague Alonso added: “Our form today wasn’t unexpected, but I think our performance so far this weekend has maybe been better than I’d have anticipated before arriving here in Malaysia.
“In fact, I’d say the progress we’ve made since Australia has been fantastic – we’re much closer to the cars in front now – but we’re still under-performing and we still need to improve.
“However, the steps we’re taking with the car show a lot of progress, so I’m optimistic that I won’t be qualifying in Q1 for that much longer.”
The Spaniard added: “If it rains tomorrow, it’ll be another learning process for the team. For me, too, the start procedure, the formation lap, the pit-stops – they’ll all be firsts for me as I wasn’t able to practise any of them in Australia.
“That makes me feel confident that there’s a lot more to come in the next few weeks.
“This isn’t an ideal position from which to start the race, but I’m fully aware that McLaren-Honda is a long-term project: we want to beat Mercedes, and to do that you need time, and to be prepared to take your chances as they come.”
Eric Boullier, McLaren-Honda’s racing director, said: “Obviously, qualifying 17th and 18th isn’t what we want to be doing – very far from it – but I don’t wish to dwell on the self-evident negatives when in actual fact there are quite a few positives for me to comment on.
“First of all, it’s good to see Fernando back in the cockpit, and even better to note that he approached and conducted his first McLaren-Honda qualifying session with such infectious enthusiasm.
“Jenson and he recorded almost identical lap-times – a testimony to the fact that they both managed to get the absolute maximum from what MP4-30 currently has to offer.
“Although we’re no farther up the grid here than we were in Melbourne, it’s clear that MP4-30 has a significant amount more to offer on the swooping curves of Sepang than it did on the point-and-squirt switchback that is Albert Park.
“And that performance delta is a result of the fact that it’s already a better car, not a result of the fact that we’re racing on a very different kind of circuit this weekend.
“We’re not satisfied, of course we aren’t. We know we still have a mountain to climb. But it’s clear that real progress is being made, and, bearing in mind where we are on our car-development curve at the moment, that’s what matters.
“That progress will continue, mark my words.”
Hamilton, though, will start the race as clear favourite.
He won the Malaysian Grand Prix from pole position last year. And you wouldn’t bet against him taking the chequered flag again on Sunday.