Lewis Hamilton took Pole Position ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix for Mercedes ahead of a spirited Sebastian Vettel in what was a torrential session. The Mercedes driver’s Pole was his 33rd, putting him level with the late great Jim Clark. It also continue Mercedes’ stranglehold of Pole Position in 2014 so far.
Saturday brought with it a change in conditions, with the overcast practice sessions serving as an ominous precursor to a deluge of rain in Qualifying.
One of the biggest losers of Practice 2 was Maldonado, who had to replace his Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), Heat turbo (MGU-H) and Kinetic Energy braking system (MGU-K). Nevertheless, Lotus plundered onward, and both cars headed out straight away. Maldonado set the early pace, with the fastest time for the first 15 minutes clocked at 1:44:622. This was instantly smashed by Massa though, almost by two seconds, one might add.
McLaren had no luck in P3, with both cars stuck in the pits for a lot of the session. Both cars were suffering sensor failures which caused the engine to enter what is known as ‘limp-home-mode’, a very slow and pitiful mode that sees the wheels given just enough power to turn. Magnussen’s car wasn’t able to be reset in time for him to set a lap. Jenson Button did get on track for a while, but he was 25 seconds off the pace.
Nico Rosberg topped the sheets in P3 as he did on Friday afternoon with a time of 1:39:008, followed closely by Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen was third quickest, but over a second slower than the current championship leader. Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg made it 3 Germans in the top 5, with 4th and 5th-best times respectively. McLaren languished at the bottom of the times, followed by both Caterhams, Marussias, Lotuses and Saubers. Everyone else argued amongst themselves anywhere between 1 and 2 seconds slower than Rosberg.
A mass of water fell between Practice and Qualifying. The monsoon season in Malaysia is always cause for unpredictability and rain drenched the circuit in time for Qualifying at 5pm local time in Kuala Lumpur. It was, however, still dry enough for Intermediate tyres. There were no real surprises in this session, with Mercedes (for the most part) head and shoulders above everyone else. At one point, Hamilton and Rosberg were three seconds clear of everyone else.
A hefty crash for Marcus Ericsson brought out the first red flag of the year at the very end of Q1. The Swede came through the sodden tarmac of turn 3, but when attempting to correct a slide, he got on the kerb and was duly flung into the barrier, wrecking the right side of his car. He was alright, but it brought the session to a slightly premature end. Not what Caterham wanted at their home event.
Out: Maldonado, Sutil, Bianchi, Kobayashi, Chilton, Ericsson.
When session 2 commenced, the need for deeper tread was realised, and Wet tyres quickly became the order of the day. McLaren nearly made a blunder and sent both their drivers out on the shallower Inters once more. No harm came to their programme as the mistake was noticed quickly, but still, a mishap.
Magnussen did have a momentary lapse towards the end of the session, sliding graciously off the circuit into the gravel at the final hairpin, but excellent reactions saw him catch the car. He did slightly damage his diffuser though, giving him even less downforce.
Daniil Kvyat rubbed shoulders with one Ferrari in Australia but he quite literally rubbed with the other in Q2, trying to nip down Alonso’s inside. He lopped a bit of his front wing off in the process, and surely angered the Spaniard, who won here in 2012. The clash caused broken suspension for Alonso, with a broken track rod causing him to pit. Ferrari performed a minor miracle and somehow got the car back out in time for the next session. Happily for the young Russian there was no penalty, although he was warned by the Stewards.
Despite showing promise in the dry, both Williams cars were eliminated in this session, but the team remained upbeat with their inherent pace.
Out: Kvyat, Gutierrez, Massa, Perez, Bottas, Grosjean.
The final top-10 shoot out began slightly later than planned due to a downpour of water that saturated the circuit. Visibility was down to an absolute minimum, with cars hidden by spray from the perspective of the TV screen. It got so wet that you literally could not see a car following another due to the ‘rooster tails’ caused by the spray.
The cars left the pits in a Noah’s Ark formation – two by two. Both Ferraris, Red Bulls, McLarens and Mercedes were eager to compete for Pole. The apocalyptic flood-prevention boat image was spoiled only by the lone Force India of Hulkenberg, and Vergne’s solitary Toro Rosso.
As the drivers got a feel for the conditions, McLaren attempted a master stroke, and brought Jenson Button in for Intermediates with roughly 8 minutes of the session to go. Clearly, the track was not improving. Water was not clearing, but falling faster, and so Jenson’s persistence with the Inters was dumbfounded; he struggled to 10th place.
Usually the master of timing, Sebastian Vettel had a rare lapse at the end of Q3. He had positioned his car as the last to cross the finish line, therefore guaranteeing him the last shot at a final lap – all eyes on him. Except, it wasn’t, because he misjudged the timing. Trying to create a gap to traffic ahead, he pretty much stopped at the final corner before accelerating for the line, but he didn’t quite make it. Still, his time was good enough for the front row.
1) Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
2) Vettel, Red Bull
3) Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
4) Alonso, Ferrari
5) Ricciardo, Red Bull
6) Raikkonen, Ferrari
7) Magnussen, McLaren
8) Hulkenberg, Force India
9) Vergne, Toro Rosso
10) Button, McLaren
Out in Q2
11) Kvyat, Toro Rosso
12) Gutierrez, Sauber
13) Massa, Williams
14) Perez, Force India
15) Bottas, Williams (Will start 18th due to a 3-place penalty for impeding Ricciardo)
16) Grosjean, Lotus (Will start 15th due to Bottas’ penalty)
Eliminated in Q1
17) Maldonado, Lotus (Will start 16th due to Bottas’ penalty)
18) Sutil, Sauber (Will start 17th due to Bottas’ penalty)
19) Bianchi, Marussia
20) Kobayashi, Caterham
21) Chilton, Marussia
22) Ericsson, Caterham