Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
As the clock ticked down for the start of Q1 in Malaysia, not surprisingly, an utter deluge pounded the track. Qualifying had yet again been delayed due to weather just so weak-kneed Europeans would not have to get up too early. Meanwhile, at the top of everyone’s list was whether or not Lewis Hamilton would be able to equal Jim Clark’s and Alain Prost’s record by taking his 2nd pole of the year. After demonstrating the clear superiority of the Mercedes over one lap in P3, with a less than tidy lap on the options Hamilton left the session .2s down on his team mate Rosberg. Of course, with rain anything was possible and as the field waited for the track to dry it was relief in the McLaren garage as the issue that curtailed their running in P3 was able to be fixed in time for Quali.
Of course with unpredictable weather for the session, it would all come down to timing. The joker in that deck being yellow or red flags spoiling the last minute runs, more likely than usual given excess torque and still damp track. Merc were first out of the garage sporting intermediates with 2.5 minutes to wait followed by Caterham and Marussia. Ominously, Hamilton was warned of further rain as he waited to start and was told to make his early laps representative.
As the cars tore out of the pits Ericsson had a problem and needed to be pushed back. Kimi, Vettel, and Ricciardo gambled and waited in the pits for almost a minute before they decided to give it a go. Only McLaren chose to go full wets and it was decidedly the wrong choice as Magnussen boxed at the end of the first lap to change tyres.
The first hot laps saw the Merc duo almost 2 seconds clear of the rest of the field, in the 1:57’s with the rest of the field over 2 minutes and Ricciardo closest. The entire field looked like a Formula Drift competition as they crossed the line. Vettel crossed the line in 7th and was told to box with car issues. Once again an ES issue, fortunately one that could be solved with a reboot. Still, as he waited in pit lane he dropped to 10th as the rain began to increase in intensity. Meanwhile Grosjean put his Inters to good use and put in a remarkably fast lap, all the while not breaking down. Sutil looked unusually lost, wallowing about in 17th.
With 6 minutes to go, McLaren were decidedly farther down the field than they would have liked to have been with Button hanging about in 19th and Magnussen not much farther off in 14th. Taking advantage of the stabilizing conditions Hulkenberg put in a good run to take over 3rd while everyone readied themselves for a final go before the checkers. Button then managed to haul himself into 15th as the rain picked up. Maldonado dropped into 17th despite having a working engine and Guttierez had a brief spin.
With 3 minutes to go all the runners in the drop zone were on the track to have their last go at extricating themselves, looking like a bunch of Group B Rally Cars in the wet as they gave it their all. And just like that Vettel was back and just .4 seconds off the Mercs and with 45 seconds to go it all ended in tears as Marcus Ericsson spun his Caterham into the Armco and then back onto the track. The session was red flagged effectively ending it with Maldonado, Sutil, Bianchi, Kobayashi, Chilton and Ericsson occupying spots 17-22
Merc again started at the front of the pitlane but this time shod in full wets. Vettel’s performance in Q1 wouldn’t have made them sit any easier in the garage and they were eager to get underway. Only Raikkonen started on inters, but it didn’t last long as Daniel Kvyat decided to drive into Fernando Alonso at turn 9, damaging Alonso’s suspension and red flagging the session with no times recorded.
After a brief wait, the track was reopened this time with Bottas on inters. Ferrari were working desperately to repair Alonso’s car while once again, the Red Bulls waited before taking to the track. This time around it was Hamilton leading the way in 1:59.419 with Rosberg almost a second behind him. Vettel rapidly split the pair, just .4 off Hamilton’s time as Bottas engaged in a lurid power slide that should have been a hint that the inters were not the way forward. Outside the top 3 it was almost 2.5 seconds to 4th place and with 6 minutes to go the battle to not be 11th hotted up. Grosjean, thanking his lucky stars for the wet, managed to shove Gutierrez out of the top 10.
At the sharp end, both Ricciarco and Vettel managed to split the Mercs, while Hamilton went .2 faster just for the fun of it. Rosberg made no improvement that time round but to liven things up Magnussen had a big off that wound up damaging his diffuser. With 3 minutes to go Button woke up and realized he needed to go faster, pushing Grosjean out of the top 10. Bottas and Massa finally realized that inters weren’t working and having made a last minute change to the full wets had one last desperate go. It was not to be, however as 12th was the best the pair could manage though it did come with a free trip to the stewards office as Ricciardo accused Bottas of impeding, to be investigated. Grosjean, Bottas, Perez, Massa, Gutierrez, and Kvyat were done for the day, in places 16-11 respectively. Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg seemed to be driving in a different universe to the rest of the field.
With the rain having lightened, tyre choice was going to be critical for the last session. Mclaren started on inters with most of the rest on full wets. As the hot laps started, Mclaren changed their mind with Magnussen boxing for full wets while Jenson opted for fresh inters. As Raikkonen was first around in the oddly drama-free session, only Hamilton was in the 1:59’s, followed by Vettel and Alonso. On the radio, Button’s engineer remained convinced that it was right on the money for crossover in the closing minutes of the session while Vettel improved to just .059 off Hamilton. Despite the fresh tyres, Button would continue to wallow about the track in 10th, with the hoped for improvement in conditions never coming.
With 5 minutes to go Vettel and Raikkonen decided it was time for fresh tyres, boxing for fresh full wets. Meanwhile, having failed to improve Hamilton came in for new rubber a lap later followed closely by Rosberg and finally some drama as after getting his new tyres Hamilton was held up by both a Toro Rosso and a Ferrari before he could be released, costing him almost 30 seconds and forcing Rosberg to queue up and wait for his change.
Vettel’s first shot at Hamilton saw him .2 seconds off and with time running out that would turn out to be his last shot as he missed getting across the line by just 2 seconds, having got caught up behind Rosberg setting up for his only attempt to improve. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s effort to better himself went rapidly awry at turn 4 where he had a brief off, having been complaining the whole time about a total lack of visibility. So he was left to watch and wait as one after another of his rivals crossed the line without improvement. With Rosberg the last and only realistic threat to his pole, the best he could manage was an improvement to 3rd. So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton who thus tied both Jim Clark and Alain Prost today with 33 career poles. Congratulations also to a well done 9th for Vergne in the Toro Rosso and 7th for Hulkenberg in the Force India.