Hamilton tames wet conditions to grab pole in Malaysia

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix after making the most of the wet conditions in the final part of qualifying to finish ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

For the second race in a row, Hamilton will start on pole after making the most of the tricky conditions, and although he failed to better his time towards the end of Q3, the Briton had done enough to hold off the improving Vettel by 0.074 seconds.

With the thunderstorm threatening to hit the circuit during Q1, most of the drivers opted to get out early and post a lap time in case of a rain shower. Unsurprisingly, it was the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg that set the early pace on the medium compound tire, dipping into the 1:39s very quickly as Vettel sat third for Ferrari after his initial run.

Behind the leading trio, the fine margins meant the most of the runners had to head back out for a second run. Carlos Sainz Jr put in an impressive display to finish fourth for Toro Rosso ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean, whilst Marcus Ericsson got himself into Q2 for the first time in his F1 career by finishing seventh.

However, in the sister Sauber, Felipe Nasr was less fortunate, finishing 16th and dropping out in Q1. He was eliminated alongside McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, marking the first time that the team has lost both drivers in Q1 at consecutive races. Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens will form the final row of the grid tomorrow should the stewards allow them to race.

At the start of Q2, all of the cars headed out early as thunder and lightening began to close on the track, resulting in a queue at the end of the pit lane when the session went green.

As the drivers tried to jostle for position, Rosberg managed to find a bit of space to post the latest time ahead of Vettel and Bottas, but for the rest of the field, it was largely a question of timing. Hamilton managed to go eighth with his lap despite being released late by Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less fortunate, going P11 after being blocked by Ericsson.

Just as the field completed its first flying lap, the thunderstorm hit Sepang hard with heavy rain falling. With the drivers unable to improve their times, all opted to remain in the pits and stay dry, with the fate of the bottom five drivers already sealed. Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were usual dropouts for Q2, but Sainz was unlucky given his early pace in Q1. Despite appearing to block Raikkonen, Ericsson continued his strong showing by finishing 10th and squeezing into the final part of qualifying.

Q3 was unsurprisingly delayed due to the storm, with the drivers being forced to wait 35 minutes before the rain eased and conditions improved to allow them out on track for Q3.

When the drivers did head out, it was Hamilton who set the early pace once again, thriving in the wet conditions to beat Rosberg by 1.2 seconds with his first lap time. However, with the track continually improving, it soon became a question of being in the right place at the right time to improve.

Vettel was the first to improve his time, moving up into second place for Ferrari, and was assured of a front-row start when Rosberg failed to improve his time with his final lap.

Hamilton had also hit traffic, but with no other drivers improving, the Briton was able to celebrate his second pole of the season at the end of the session. However, with the Mercedes drivers both slowing down on their outlaps to try to create some space, they may have only hindered each other’s efforts.

Red Bull bounced back from its difficult start to the season in Australia by qualifying fourth and fifth on Saturday, with Daniel Ricciardo leading home teammate Daniil Kvyat.

However, the outstanding display came courtesy of 17-year-old Max Verstappen, who managed to qualify sixth despite having never driven an F1 car in wet conditions before.

Williams enjoyed a less fruitful session as Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa qualified seventh and ninth respectively. Romain Grosjean split the duo in P8, whilst Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top ten.

For Hamilton though, the rain was not enough to stop him from securing his second pole position of the season. Rosberg will unquestionably be hoping to hit back in the race, but with Vettel in second place, Ferrari will be hoping to get in the fight for the win tomorrow if more rain strikes.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.