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Qualifying analysis - could red really trump silver?

28 Mar 2015

With qualifying starting at 1700 local time, the famed Malaysian rain was always going to present a potential challenge to the teams and sure enough, after a near miss in Q1, down it came soon after the start of Q2 and washed away several drivers’ hopes of a decent grid position. After a half-hour delay, Q3 was eventually run on a wet track, marking the debut of Pirelli’s wet-weather tyres. But who made best use of them?

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, 1m 49.834s, P1
Nico Rosberg, 1m 50.299s, P3

When it mattered, Hamilton delivered the goods to take his 40th career pole - on his first run in Q3 on intermediate tyres when the track conditions were at their worst. At that time he was 1.2s faster than Rosberg and more than three quicker than Vettel. Subsequently, Vettel just failed to beat him by a tenth, but Hamilton’ class had won the day even though he failed to improve on his own second run. Rosberg admitted that he just didn’t do a good job, even though he said the grip levels in the wet were greater than he had ever experienced here. Are the Silver Arrows really facing a red challenge? We’ll see tomorrow afternoon.

Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel, 1m 49.908s, P2
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 42.173s, P11

Ferrari have looked strong here all weekend, and in Q1 that showed when Vettel got within six-tenths of the Mercedes even though they ran the medium tyres and he was on the harder rubber. And when it mattered, in Q3, he might have been walloped by Hamilton on their first runs, but on his second he only missed pole by a tenth… It’s not beyond possibility that Ferrari could spring a major surprise tomorrow. Q2 proved disastrous for Raikkonen. Cut off in his attempts to pass Ericsson, the Finn simply didn’t get a decent lap in before the rain came, and had to line up 11th.

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 51.541s, P4
Daniil Kvyat, 1m 51.951s, P5

Things have also been looking up for Red Bull this weekend, after the reversion to testing software settings for the troubled Renault engine. Neither Ricciardo nor Kvyat were able to get anywhere near the times of the top three, but fourth and fifth on the grid give them a very solid baseline for a big points attack.

Toro Rosso

Max Verstappen, 1m 51.981s, P6
Carlos Sainz, 1m 43.701s, P15

Qualifying was truly a story of mixed fortunes here. Verstappen drove superbly in Q3 to set the sixth fastest time, right on the tail of his Red Bull stablemates, and never looked like putting a wheel wrong. By contrast, Q2 was a disaster for Sainz. Having equalled Vettel’s third fastest time in Q1, only six-tenths off the Mercedes and on the same medium rubber (Vettel had used hards), the Spaniard didn’t get going soon enough in Q2 and ended up a disappointed 15th.

Williams

Felipe Massa, 1m 52.473s, P7
Valtteri Bottas, 1m 53.179s, P9, will start P8

Quite simply, Williams made a mistake opting to go out on full wets in Q3, and they paid the price. Off their rhythm after having to switch to intermediates, neither Massa nor Bottas realised his full potential and have to make do with seventh and ninth positions respectively on the grid.

Lotus

Romain Grosjean, 1m 52.981s, P8, will start P10
Pastor Maldonado, 1m 42.198s, P12

Lotus also got their tyre choice wrong in Q3, leaving Grosjean to make do with eighth on the grid, while Maldonado didn’t get a strong enough lap early on in Q2. Later in the evening the Frenchman was dropped to 10th, moving Bottas and Ericsson up a place each, when the stewards penalised him for making up places as the cars left the pits at the start of Q2.

Sauber

Marcus Ericsson, 1m 53.261s, P10, will start P9
Felipe Nasr, 1m 41.308s, P16

Ericsson starred with a great 10th best lap in Q2, to make it through to Q3 for the first time and thence to take an impressive 10th overall. With the right tyre choice early in Q3, he might have done better still. Nasr, the hero of Melbourne, fell at the first hurdle as he struggled all through Q1.

Force India

Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 43.023s, P13
Sergio Perez, 1m 43.469s, P14

Both Force India drivers paid the price for not getting out quickly enough in Q2, as they had to be content with only 13th and 14th positions when the lottery-like nature of the session’s first laps had offered the chance of doing much better.

McLaren

Jenson Button, 1m 41.636s, P17
Fernando Alonso, 1m 41.746s, P18

Despite their lowly grid places, both drivers were smiling afterwards. Button in particular was chuffed to beat Alonso on their first encounter as team mates, and said that their performance and reliability throughout practice demonstrated that McLaren had made a huge amount of progress since Australia. Both were buoyed to be within range of Q2, and stressed that their race pace was much better than their qualifying pace, as they set their sights on hunting for the renewed McLaren-Honda partnership’s first points.

Marussia

Roberto Merhi, 1m 46.677s, P19 DNQ
Will Stevens, No time, DNQ

Merhi tried hard, as evidenced by a half spin, and worked down to 1m 46.677s, against the 107 percent cut-off time of 1m 46.217s. Stevens, however, never got going as fuel system problems from FP3 persisted. The team will, however, be allowed to race.