Vettel takes Sepang pole

23/03/2013
NEWS STORY

Ahead of today's qualifying session, the air temperature is 32 degrees C, while the track temperature is 41 degrees. It remains sunny with humidity now running at 58 percent.

Sebastian Vettel set the pace this morning however, ongoing tyre issues indicate that should he take pole for tomorrow's race he will still be unable to convert it into a win, as happened in Australia.

Fact is, the Red Bull, like so many other cars, is struggling to manage its tyres. Therefore, whilst it might have outright pace it cannot maintain it for long. This morning, most drivers were able to get just one good lap out of the options while it is being predicted that some teams, including Red Bull, may need to make as many as four stops tomorrow.

While Kimi Raikkonen was only fifth this morning, he and Lotus appear to be on top of the tyre situation, as does Force India, while Romain Grosjean is complaining of a fundamental problem with his E21.

The Mercedes duo look good, as do Ferrari - Felipe Massa yet again having the edge - while Jenson Button will be happy to have finished in the top seven this morning.

At the other end, Jules Bianchi continues to impress while Toro Rosso and Sauber are both looking all at sea.

Consequently, pole position doesn't appear to be that important here, instead it will be tyre management on Sunday that counts and with this in mind we wouldn't be surprised to see a number of drivers - including some big guns - opt to miss Q3 in order to not only have a free choice of tyre tomorrow but also to save some rubber. All of which makes a mockery of the sport. Should that be the case however, don't blame Pirelli blame those that gave the Italian manufacturer the mandate.

The lights go green but nobody seems too eager to get things underway.

With the rain yesterday, not to mention the support race running, including GP2, the track is a lot more grippy and less green than yesterday.

Almost two minutes into the session, Chilton fires up the Marussia and heads down the pitlane. As the English youngster begins his fist flying lap there are ten other drivers on track.

Chilton crosses the line at 40.683 but moments later teammate Bianchi goes 0.6s quicker.

Bottas, sparks flying from underneath the FW35, goes quickest (38.376), only to be demoted when Rosberg crosses the line at 37.239, the German having gone quickest in all three sectors.

Massa goes second with a 37.712 but is immediately leapfrogged when his teammate posts 37.314. Shortly after that Hamilton splits the pair with a 37.540.

Button goes fourth, ahead of Massa and Maldonado as Hamilton asks what are the areas he can improve in, "sector three and turn nine" he is told.

As di Resta goes sixth with a very smooth 37.788, Sutil goes quickest in S2 and again S3, crossing the line at 36.809 to go quickest. Both are on the option rubber.

With 07:38 on the clock Webber leaves the pits, only Grosjean, Raikkonen and Vettel yet to appear.
As Button complains of too much oversteer, Vettel and the Lotus duo come out to play.

Grosjean goes fourth and Raikkonen second, the Finn 0.15s off Sutil's pace. Like the German he is on options, as is his Lotus teammate.

As the Red Bulls begin their first flying laps, the Toro Rosso duo are in the danger zone along with the usual suspects. The two Saubers only just outside the drop zone and looking worrying for Q2, as do the Williams.

Vettel (options) goes eleventh (37.899) while Webber backs right off in S3 and can only manage fifteenth (38.020). The Australian is told he will have to do another lap and keep pushing. He responds with a PB in S2 however, Bottas is also on a strong lap.

Webber improves to ninth (37.619) as Vettel, now in fourteenth, backs off realising that he is 'safe' for now.

A late charge sees Gutierrez improve to eleventh (37.707), thereby dropping Vettel to fifteenth.

Quickest in Q1 was Sutil, ahead of Raikkonen, Rosberg, Alonso, Grosjean, Button, di Resta, Hamilton, Webber and Perez.

We lose Vergne, Bottas, Bianchi, Pic, Chilton and Van der Garde.

Di Resta is an eager beaver, first out for Q2 on a set of options. He is joined by Gutierrez, Rosberg, Hamilton, Sutil and Ricciardo.

Di Resta returns to the pits having not posted time, all other drivers are on track except for Maldonado.

No sooner has Gutierrez posted the benchmark (39.221), than Sutil posts 36.834. However, this is soon beaten by Hamilton and then Rosberg, The German crossing the line at 36.190.

Webber splits the Mercedes duo with a 36.449 while Raikkonen goes fourth with 36.640.

At which stage Hamilton reveals that it is raining at Turns 5 and 6. Massa, manages to bang in a 36.874 which is good enough for sixth. However, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Gutierrez, di Resta and Maldonado are still in the danger zone.

The Scot posts a PB in S1 but then gets caught out by the slippery surface between Turns 7 and 8.

As di Resta begins another lap, so do does Grosjean, both desperate to make it through to Q3. However, it's a disaster for the Scot who spins 360 (x 2) at T7. Grosjean simply drives into the pits his session over.

The Ferrari duo was lucky to make the cut whilst the weather gods seem to be listening to Martin Whitmarsh who previously admitted that rain was the best chance of success here.

Rosberg was quickest, ahead Webber, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Sutil, Massa, Alonso, Button, Vettel and Perez.

We lose Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Gutierrez, di Resta and Maldonado.

Talking to Sky Sports F1 ahead of Q3, di Resta lays the blame for his failure to make the cut squarely at the door of his team, claiming its poor strategy - not allowing him to complete his first flying lap - cost him. Not sure how that will go down back in the garage.

Despite the rain, unlike Melbourne, there are no delays and as waiting at the end of the pitlane are Sutil, Perez, Webber, Button, Raikkonen and Rosberg. DRS is disabled.

All ten drivers are on track, Massa the last to leave the pits. All are on inters. Even though it's raining the sun is shining, hence there is steam rising from the track.

Hamilton runs wide in T7 as Webber is struggling in T15 and is overtaken.

Rosberg goes quickest in the first two sectors but then Vettel goes quickest in S2.

Rosberg goes quickest (53.898), ahead of Massa, Alonso and Hamilton, only for Vettel to bang in a 52.576, over a second quicker.

All ten pit and return to the track, the rain has stopped but the track is still very wet. All stick with the inters.

Webber goes quickest in Q1 but has a poor Q2, meanwhile Raikkonen is told that he has just one timed lap and he has to get it right.

Hamilton goes quickest with a 51.699 as Webber consolidates second with a 52.244.

With 1:15 on the clock they all have time for one more lap.

Raikkonen responds to instructions going quickest in S1. However, he loses time in Q2, the Finn clearly struggling to stay on track. Meanwhile Vettel is on a hot lap.

Raikkonen can only manage fourth (52.576) while Alonso goes quickest with a 50.727 only to be beaten by Vettel's 49.674.

Massa goes second (50.587) but Hamilton is still on track. The Mercedes driver fails to improve however, meaning he will start from fourth on the grid.

Vettel takes pole for the Malaysian Grand Prix, ahead of Massa, who once again out-performs his illustrious teammate Fernando Alonso who starts third. Hamilton is fourth, ahead of Webber, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Button, Sutil and Perez.

With further rain showers predicted tomorrow we could be in for a fun race. Let's hope so.

Whilst Webber responds with a curt "unbelievable" when told he has qualified fifth, it all appears to favour his teammate who, if dry, will have a free choice of tyres tomorrow and has saved some primes from earlier. Then again, it will be worth watching the Ferrari duo… and the Mercedes duo… and Raikkonen.

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Published: 23/03/2013
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