Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel will start from pole for Red Bull on Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, after snatching the position from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton by 0.174s right at the end of a great qualifying session.
Felipe Massa set the ball rolling for Ferrari in Q1 before Jenson Button went fastest for McLaren in Q2. But just as it seemed Hamilton had got things sorted with the first sub-1m 35s lap of the weekend at the end of Q3, with 1m 34.974s, Vettel pipped him with 1m 34.870s. Mark Webber will start third on 1m 35.179s in the other Red Bull, with Button fourth on 1m 35.200s.
On the third row, a disappointed Fernando Alonso could only coax 1m 35.802s out of his Ferrari, as Nick Heidfeld jumped up to sixth for Renault with 1m 36.124s. That pushed Massa down a place, on 1m 36.251s, while Vitaly Petrov took eighth in the other Renault on 1m 36.324s ahead of Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes on 1m 36.809s, and Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber on 1m 36.820s.
Rosberg had aced Mercedes team mate Michael Schumacher in the dying moments of Q2, as the elder German got pushed down to 11th on 1m 37.035s. The well-matched Toro Rosso duo were next up, with Sebastien Buemi just beating Jaime Alguersuari, 1m 37.160s to 1m 37.347s. Paul di Resta did a super job for Force India, the rookie taking 14th place with 1m 37.370s ahead of Williams’ Rubens Barrichello on 1m 37.496s, Sauber’s Sergio Perez on 1m 37.528s and team mate Adrian Sutil on 1m 37.593s.
Q1 saw Pastor Maldonado just fail to get through, Williams team mate Barrichello easing him out with 1m 38.163s to 1m 38.276s as Massa set the pace on 1m 36.744s from Hamilton and Alonso.
At one stage Heikki Kovalainen’s 1m 38.645s lap put him seventh, but the Lotus driver dropped back to 19th as he failed to improve. Nevertheless the closeness to Williams was a major fillip for Lotus, who had Jarno Trulli next up on 1m 38.791s.
There was a big gap to Timo Glock’s Virgin which stopped the clocks in 1m 40.648s, while Jerome D’Ambrosio’s 1m 41.001s in the sister Virgin was not far clear of Tonio Liuzzi’s 1m 41.549s in the lead HRT. Team mate Narain Karthikeyan was 24th on 1m 42.574s.
With a 107 percent time of 1m 43.516s, all 24 cars qualified.
The session was delayed briefly after Buemi’s left-hand sidepod cover departed his STR6, which was fifth fastest at the time, and landed on the back straight. It was soon removed.