Hamilton edges out resurgent Vettel to claim Malaysia pole

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix after taming the wet conditions at Sepang International Circuit to fend off the opposition and finish at the top of the timesheets, underlining Mercedes’ dominance at the start of the new Formula 1 season.

Despite a lengthy delay and two red flags, the wet weather subsided to allow the full complement of running to take place, and Hamilton excelled in the wet conditions to edge out defending world champion Sebastian Vettel. The German driver missed out on his chance for pole after Red Bull mis-timed his final run, whilst Nico Rosberg rounded out the top three with a last-ditch lap to move ahead of Fernando Alonso.

After a 50 minute delay due to heavy rain, qualifying finally got underway on a drying track that forced the drivers to head out on the intermediate tire. With another rain shower forecast, Mercedes sent its drivers to the end of the pit lane early to ensure track position, and a number of other teams opted to follow suit. Lewis Hamilton was the first driver to post a lap time of 1:57.309, only for teammate Nico Rosberg to go one-tenth quicker. Just as they did in the dry, the Mercedes drivers appeared to have an early advantage in the wet.

As the drivers continued to circulate the track, Sebastian Vettel was given the call to pit due to an issue with his power unit that required fixing. Despite the rain appearing to grow heavier, a number of the drivers were able to improve their lap times. After having to make a tire change, Kevin Magnussen finally got out to post his first lap time and get out of the dropzone, but both he and teammate Jenson Button were at risk of elimination. Vettel finally managed to get back out, and quickly went about securing a place in Q2 by moving up into third place behind the two Mercedes drivers.

With one minute to go, Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson spun on the run-up to turn four and crashed into the wall, bringing out a red flag and ending the session. Alongside Caterham teammate Kamui Kobayashi and the two Marussia drivers, Ericsson was eliminated at the end of Q1. Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil also failed to finish inside the top sixteen, thus ending their qualifying sessions.

Once the debris from Ericsson’s car had been cleared, Q2 began with most of the drivers heading out early. However, the session lasted a matter of minutes as the session was red flagged due to debris on track, forcing the teams to box their cars and wait for instructions. Whilst heading back to the pits, Fernando Alonso was hit by rookie Daniil Kvyat and suffered front suspension damage that gave his team a small repair job to get on with as the session restarted. The Spaniard did manage to get out soon after the restart on full wet tires, but Valtteri Bottas braved the conditions on intermediates, but it was the wrong call as he found himself eight seconds behind pace-setter Lewis Hamilton.

With five minutes to go, most of the drivers opted to pit for fresh tires, but both Mercedes drivers continued out on track and lowered the benchmark further at the top of the timesheets. A trip through the gravel gave Kevin Magnussen a wake-up call, but both he and Kimi Raikkonen opted to end their runs early in the hope that none of the drivers below them would improve their times. Jenson Button demoted his teammate by one place after moving up into the top ten, and Jean-Eric Vergne pulled the same stunt on Daniil Kvyat to secure his place in Q3 at the expense of his teammate. For Williams, it was a difficult session as both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas dropped out in Q2, whilst Romain Grosjean rounded out the order in 16th place.

Q3 got underway with all drivers except Button and Magnussen heading out on full wet tires. Raikkonen’s initial benchmark of 2:01.218 didn’t last long as Lewis Hamilton went over 1.7 seconds quicker. Nico Rosberg could not match his teammate’s pace, but Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso both put in a good lap to move into the top three.

In the final few minutes of the session, the rain grew heavier and improvements were few and far between, but Red Bull shot themselves in the foot by mis-timing Vettel’s final run. Ultimately, Nico Rosberg was the only driver who managed to improve and move up into third place, but it was his teammate who took the plaudits by securing his 33rd career pole position.

Although Hamilton will be pleased to have secured back-to-back pole positions, the British driver will undoubtedly be wary of a resurgent Vettel and his teammate at the start of the race tomorrow. Just as he did in Australia, though, he has given himself the best possible chance of claiming his second win for Mercedes on Sunday.

F1 2017 driver review: Lewis Hamilton

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Following on from the driver reviews from the Verizon IndyCar Series, MotorSportsTalk kicks off its Formula 1 recaps by looking back on Lewis Hamilton’s championship year.

Lewis Hamilton

Team: Mercedes AMG Petronas
Car No.: 44
Races: 20
Wins: 9
Podiums (excluding wins): 4
Pole Positions: 11
Fastest Laps: 7
Points: 363
Laps Led: 527
Championship Position: 1st

Lewis Hamilton may have wrapped up his fourth Formula 1 world title with two races to spare, but his margin of victory was far from representative of what was arguably his greatest championship victory yet.

Mercedes entered 2017 bidding to become the first team to defend its titles across a seismic regulation change, and appeared to be on the back foot early on after Ferrari impressed in pre-season testing and won the opening race through Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton was left wrestling with a “diva” of a car, as coined by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, but was able to get on top of it by the second race of the year in China, taking a dominant win in wet-dry conditions.

The win was representative of Hamilton’s form through the first portion of the season. When he won, he won in style – as in Spain, Canada and on home soil in Great Britain – but the off weekends saw him struggle.

Heading into the summer break, Vettel’s championship lead stood at 14 points, with the pair’s on-track rivalry having already spilled over in Baku when they made contact behind the safety car.

But Hamilton then produced the form that propelled him to titles in 2014 and 2015, breaking the back of the season through the final flyaways. As Vettel and Ferrari capitulated over the Asian rounds, picking up just 12 points when a full score of 75 for three wins was certainly in reach, Hamilton capitalised and put himself on the brink of the title.

While Hamilton’s run to P9 in Mexico was a messy way to wrap up his hardest-fought title to date, getting across the line and the job done was a significant result.

Unlike his last two titles, Hamilton was tasked with an enemy outside of the team in this title race and a car that arguably wasn’t the fastest on the grid.

But his unquestionable talent and ability to dig deep to get himself out of tough situations – Singapore and Brazil being two key examples where the result was far from expected – proved crucial once again.

Hamilton is now in the annals of F1 history as one of its all-time greats. The pole record is his, and only two drivers can boast more world titles than him (Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio).

Depending on how long he wants to continue racing, going down as F1’s statistical all-time great is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Season High: Charging from the pit lane to P4 in Brazil, a race he could have even won.

Season Low: Dropping out in Q2 in Monaco, only recovering to P7 in the race.