Vettel happy to qualify 2nd despite minor car problem

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Defending Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel has bounced back from a disastrous opening race of the season in Australia to qualify in second place for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix, and the German driver is delighted to be back on the front row of the grid.

However, it all very nearly ended in tears for Vettel and Red Bull. After being forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix with just five laps on the board because of an engine problem, Vettel was called into the pits after posting just one lap time in Q1 on Saturday due to another problem. Thankfully for the team, it was merely a case of resetting the car and sending the German driver out again.

“My heartbeat was rising very quickly in Q1 when we realised there was an issue,” Vettel admitted after qualifying. “We came in and restarted the car, which seemed to solve the problem and after that it was fine.”

Eventually, Vettel qualified in second place and finished just 0.055 seconds behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton, but – being the four-time champion he is – was left frustrated by such a minor margin. Upon seeing the results, the German driver exclaimed: “Six-hundredths! You’re kidding!” before congratulating Hamilton on his second pole position of the season.

“Q3 was not perfect,” Vettel admitted. “It was very close, maybe too close, as if you look at the margin it was possible to go faster, but then if Lewis would have had another chance he would have improved also.

“So ‘would should, could’ – at the end of the day it’s good to be on the front row and it should be the good side of the grid for tomorrow. It depends on how our start is, but I’m happy with the result.”

After a disastrous winter testing programme and a poor start to the season in Australia, Vettel will be delighted to have finally found some form and pushed Hamilton and Mercedes in the fight for pole position.

Although he might struggle to beat Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the dry on Sunday, the weather forecast suggests that rain could play a part, and perhaps give Vettel a chance of securing his fourth victory in Malaysia.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.