Saturday, 9 April 2011

Sepang Qually: Seb made to work for it

It just goes to show that nobody knows anything. William Goldman famously said it of Hollywood, and it applies to F1 just as aptly.

As a topline, Sebastian Vettel claiming pole for tomorrow's Malaysian GP was as expected, but the parallels with the opening round at Melbourne end there. Seb was really made to work for his pole, going toe to toe with the equally mighty Lewis Hamilton, and pipping the Englishman by a smidgen at the very last of a highly exciting qualifying session.

We're therefore perfectly poised for the race, two champions in evenly matched machinery on the front row, and it's possible that the McLaren looks looks after its tyres better, which could be its trump card. The fact that the two have been needling each other off track for weeks (as have their respective teams), and that there's a strong possibility of rain at some point, only adds spice to the mix.

Like the champions they are, both Seb and Lewis found those vital extra tenths that weren't really there in their final runs. This left their team mates filling the second row, Webber ahead of Button, and each around three tenths down on Seb's pole time.

In terms of the sharp end of the lap times, there are only the Bulls and the McLarens in it, as once again the Ferraris are firmly switched into damage limitation mode, and not being much troubled to admit it it seems. Alonso claimed fifth on the grid, which was as good as he could reasonably have hoped for, but the fat end of a second off Seb's quickest time. Massa qualified seventh, almost half a second slower than Alonso on a weekend that for a lot of the time he seemed to have the measure of his team mate for a change. Ferrari are now seemingly open on the point that they're out to gather what points they can until they get the cars back to Europe and they can have a serious measure of where their pre-season pace has disappeared to. They perhaps more than anyone may be hoping for the odd shower tomorrow to shuffle things up a bit, otherwise following the Bulls and McLarens (probably at a distance) is about their maximum.

Further down the field a few shout outs are due. First of all Nick Heidfeld showed all of his class to qualify the Renault in sixth place (Renault maintaining their promise shown in Melbourne - looking to be the fourth best team, at least). Further, Quick Nick is a master of gaining positions on lap one, so those five cars ahead of him should be looking in their mirrors with some trepidation. It's also one in the eye for those who wrote him off after the Melbourne race, wherein there were clear mitigating circumstances for his seemingly underwhelming performance.

And a lot further down the field Team Lotus made good on some of their pre-season bigging up of themselves, only being half a second away from making qually two, on probably the demanding track of the year aerodynamically. It looks promising that they've bridged a lot of the gap between the midfield and the 'new' teams. And last but not least well done to HRT, who comfortably got under the 107% time to make the race tomorrow. It seemed to have been forgotten post-Melbourne that 107% is a high bar (or a low bar, depending on how you look at it), so talk of them not making a race this season was rather silly. Indeed, I'd suggest that them failing to make a race will be the exceptional case.

Qualifying results and report on the Autosport website

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