F1 Malaysia Quali Results & Report: Vettel on Pole Again, but Hamilton Very Close

What Happens When the Same Old Show is Still Dramatic

5:17am EST — Sebastian Vettel beat Lewis Hamilton to pole for the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix in a last-second shootout after the Briton led most of Q3. Jenson Button and Mark Webber will complete the front two rows for Sunday’s race, and continued the Red Bull/McLaren domination of the weekend. Fernando Alonso and Nick Heidfeld will start fifth and sixth after reserving their shot at pole to a single lap, as did the other drivers in Q3. Nico Rosberg, who will start ninth, shoved teammate Michael Schumacher out in Q2 while the HRTs will start their first race of the season, posting times within the 107% rule.

Red Bull and McLaren ran away with the three practice sessions at Sepang, with Webber quickest by a long shot over Hamilton Friday morning, by a tiny margin over Button Friday afternoon, and Hamilton claiming the top spot over Webber in the final practice on Saturday. While both McLaren drivers were pretty quick during all three sessions, Webber outshone Vettel in all three, with the reigning champion seventeenth, fourth, and fifth fastest. Ferrari was either well behind the other two teams during practice or reserving their times for qualifying, with Alonso and Massa only in the top ten in all three sessions. Though Renault had a rough day Friday with front-end issues, Heidfeld was fourth fastest and Petrov seventh in the third practice. HRT continued its slow pace, though Karthikeyan and Liuzzi were faster than Virgin Racing for much of the practice, ending Saturday morning outside the 107% rule.

Q1 started dry and sunny, with Liuzzi the first driver to leave pit lane and no one immediately following him. Ferrari, whose weather predictions ruined qualifying last year at Sepang, indicated taht rain was on its way, but would not fall for thirty minutes. Five minutes in, di Resta led the way, with D’ambrosio and Liuzzi the only others to have set a time. Barrichello quickly eclipsed all of them with an early time of 1:40.157, only to have teammate Maldonado go faster.

Hamilton went straight to the top, seven minutes into the session, with Webber seven tenths behind. Button slotted in between them, as did Buemi. Vettel was second fastest on his first lap. Alguersuari continued the Toro Rosso pace by going third fastest, around the same time that his teammate Buemi lost a huge chunk of bodywork from his left sidepod, pausing the session with a red flag and with twelve minutes remaining. The team said afterword that “it just fell off.” At that point, Hamilton led Vettel, Alguersuari, Button, and Webber as the fastest five. The Ferraris, Lotuses, Renaults, Saubers, and Rosberg had yet to set a time, though only the Renaults and Saubers had yet to hit the circuit.

The session restarted minutes later, with the times unchanged as ten minutes remained. Only Rosberg, Kovalainen, and Trulli were circulating at that time, though they were soon joined by Perez and others who had yet to set a time. From Hamilton’s 1:37.466, the 107% cutoff time was 1:44.288. Kovalainen jumped up to seventh, with Rosberg eighth, and Trulli tenth, though the top six (and 11-18th) remained in the garage with seven minutes to go in Q1. With both Alonso and Massa caught out by the red flag, “Both drivers left the garage on soft tyres. It is a safer approach in order to get to Q2,” tweeted Ferrari. Massa (1:36.744) was fastest on his first lap, with Kobayashi second. Alonso was then second fastest on his first lap, with Hamilton and other top runners heading back out with five minutes to go.

Only Heidfeld and Petrov had yet to set a time, joining di Resta, the Virgins, and the HRTs in the knockout zone. Heidfeld slid into fourth on his first lap, with Petrov posting a faster lap afterward. Maldonado, Barrichello, and Sutil joined the “new” teams in the relegation zone with both Lotus drivers moving up, until Barrichello improved and knocked Trulli out, and Schumacher. Both Mercedes drivers went on tearing laps to haul themselves out of the knockout zone with just over a minute to go. The drivers with ton ten times streamed back into the garages as the seconds ticked down, with Massa leading Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher, and Kobayashi as the quickest five, with Button sixth, Vettel tenth, and Webber fifteenth. Even the HRTs were quick enough to start the race Sunday, nearly a second faster than necessary.

Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Maldonado
19. Kovalainen
20. Trulli
21. Glock
22. D’Ambrosio
23. Liuzzi
24. Karthikeyan

Buemi was the first out for Q2, followed by teammate Alguersuari and Hamilton, then Webber. Quickly, all but Rosberg, the Renaults, the Force Indias, and Barrichello were out. Five minutes into the fifteen minute session, only Vettel (1:35.934), Webber, Hamilton, Perez, Kobayashi, Buemi, and Alguersuari had set times, in that order. Button soon eclipsed Vettel, but nearly four tenths. Massa and Alonso were also taking no chances, already out and fourth and fifth fastest, respectively.

Halfway through Q2, Button led Vettel, Webber, Massa, and Alonso as the fastest five, with Buemi, Alguersuari, and Barrichello in the knockout zone, as neither the Renaults nor Force Indias had set a time. Both teams were soon out, as were Massa and Alonso. Heidfeld was fourth fastest on his first lap, only to have Petrov take that position. Further down, hamilton was in the knockout zone, with Alguersuari, the Saubers, and Barrichello, and two minutes to go. Hamilton posted a quick lap to move up to second, butting the McLarens ahead of the Red Bulls. di Resta’s first lap left him in the relegation zone, as did Sutil’s.

Rosberg was about to be knocked out, but his first sector as the seconds ticked away was the fastest of all. Kobayashi moved himself up to eighth, dropping Schumacher to tenth, then his own teammate dropped him out of Q2 with a sixth fastest time, as Schumacher did not improve on his last lap. Button, Hamilton, vettel, Webber, Alonso, Rosberg, Massa, Petrov, Kobayashi, and Heifeld were the fastest ten at the end of Q2.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Schumacher
12. Buemi
13. Alguersuari
14. di Resta
15. Barrichello
16. Perez
17. Sutil

The rain held off for the start of Q3, as Renault indicated, “No sign of any rain for the final part of qualy either according to the radar.” Hamilton was the first out, followed by Button, for the ten minute session. Webber soon joined them, as did Vettel. The other drivers did not join immediately. Hamilton’s first lap was a 1:35 dead, with Button three tenths slower. Webber split them, but was still nearly three tenths off Hamilton’s time. Vettel beat his teammate, but could not match Hamilton. None of the other drivers had even left the pit lane with less than five minutes left.

Alonso left the garage with just under three minutes left, followed by Heidfeld, then Massa and Kobayashi, Rosberg, Hamilton, and Webber. At the two minute mark, only Vettel was still in the garage, though he was soon back out as well. There was time for one lap from six of the drivers.

Hamilton was on another flyer, with Webber, Vettel, and Button all matching their first sector times. Alonso was fourth with his only lap, with Heidfeld sliding between the Ferrari teammates. Vettel was quickest in the second sector as Webber did not improve. Hamilton improved his super quick time to a 1:34.974, only to be beaten by Vettel by .104s. Button improved his own time to hold Alonso off for fourth and a second row starting position.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix:

Driver Team Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:34.870 12
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:34.974 19
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:35.179 17
4. Jenson Button McLaren 1:35.200 15
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:35.802 14
6. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:36.124 9
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.251 13
8. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:36.324 9
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:36.809 17
10. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:36.820 13
11. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:37.035 12
12. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1:37.160 13
13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1:37.347 12
14. Paul di Resta Force India 1:37.370 12
15. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1:37.496 15
16. Sergio Perez Sauber 1:37.528 10
17. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:37.593 9
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:38.276 8
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:38.645 8
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1:38.791 8
21. Timo Glock Virgin Racing 1:40.648 8
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin Racing 1:41.001 7
23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 1:41.549 7
24. Narian Karthikeyan HRT 1:42.574 7

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