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Hamilton calls Malaysia pole ‘real surprise’ after practice struggles

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Formula 1 championship leader Lewis Hamilton made no secret of his surprise after sweeping to pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday, having struggled for pace throughout practice.

Hamilton finished over a second behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in FP2 on Friday and was still behind in final practice despite switching back to the old aerodynamic package for his Mercedes W08 car.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying, eventually taking pole by 0.045 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen as Vettel suffered an engine issue that resigned him to the back of the grid for Sunday’s race.

“Today we had no idea how it was going to go and I am sorry for whatever happened to Sebastian because he was very quick through practice,” Hamilton said after qualifying.

“Somehow we turned it around. The engineers did such a great job yesterday. The car felt great so it is a real surprise to be up here with these guys but I am really grateful.

“We are going to have a tough race against these guys, particularly the Red Bull pair as they had good long run pace yesterday and today.

“I hope our car has moved in the right direction for the race run but we will see tomorrow.

“It is a long run down to turn one so a lot can happen.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

F1 2017 driver review: Kevin Magnussen

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Kevin Magnussen

Team: Haas
Car No.: 20
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P7 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 19
Championship Position: 14th

Kevin Magnussen’s move to Haas proved to be a win-win situation for both parties through 2017 as they banished the struggles of the previous Formula 1 season.

For Magnussen, the move came after a difficult one-season stint with Renault who despite offering him a way back into F1 after a year on the sidelines were unable to produce a car allowing the Dane to fight far up the order.

Haas had not expected to be able to be that much further ahead, but Magnussen nevertheless immediately offered an uplift in performance after replacing Esteban Gutierrez, who failed to score a single point through 2016.

Magnussen picked up Haas’ first points of the season with a solid drive in China, and was able to capitalize on the bonkers Baku race to take P7, which would ultimately be his best result of the season.

Consistency was a real issue for Haas throughout the year as it continued to have teething problems most new teams encounter, and while Magnussen was more able to drive around the problems than teammate Romain Grosjean, he lacked the ultimate pace of his teammate.

That said, Magnussen’s season highlight came in Mexico, a track Haas expected to be its worst of the season. The ex-McLaren driver qualified on the last row but produced a stunning display to finish eighth, soaking up pressure from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton late on.

The signs are positive moving forward. Next year should be Haas’ best yet thanks to the stability in the regulations, presenting a good opportunity for Magnussen to prove his star quality.

Season High: Taking P8 in Mexico when Haas expected to be slowest.

Season Low: Lagging home P15 at Spa as Grosjean hit the points.