KUALA LUMPUR // Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Jenson Button maintained McLaren-Mercedes’ qualifying superiority by locking out the front-row for the second successive race weekend ahead of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, secured his 21st career pole – and McLaren’s first in Malaysia – with a scorching lap in temperamental conditions at Sepang International Circuit.
The Briton’s time proved to be 0.149 seconds quicker than Button, the 2009 champion, while Michael Schumacher of Mercedes-GP was a further 0.023 behind.
As he did in last week’s season-opener in Melbourne, Hamilton yesterday set his phenomenal lap on his first run of Q3, while Button left his until the dying seconds of the session. Red Bull Racing, so dominant last season, saw their two drivers – Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber – finish sixth and fourth, respectively.
It was a more contented Hamilton who met with reporters than the one who had, in Australia, failed to convert his pole position, as well as mask his disappointment at doing so.
The qualifying result came on the back of a Friday practice where he topped the time sheets in both sessions and he was quick to acknowledge “it’s been a good weekend so far”.
It is expected however that today’s race will hinge on who best manages their Pirelli tyres, with the Malaysian humidity producing high track temperatures and quick rubber degradation. Hamilton was passed in Australia by the eventual winner Button before the first corner, and the pole-sitter said he is determined to avoid a repeat performance.
“It’s a very long haul down to Turn 1,” Hamilton said. “Just in the conditions, you never know what’s going to happen, the changeable conditions.
“I hope it stays dry, but these tyres are having a seriously hard time around here. It’s going to be interesting. I obviously don’t know how it’s going to go, but I’ll do everything I can to make sure we’re as competitive as possible.”
Schumacher, the 43-year-old German who quit the sport for three years before returning in 2010, was enjoying his moment in the sun.
Third on the grid marks the seven-time world champion’s best starting position since the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix.
Although Button suggested any of the top four drivers could win today, Schumacher is refusing to think about the top step of the podium.
“This was the maximum that was available,” he said. “We’re third, a very tight business if you look who is behind us and how close everything is going. We can be more than happy about what we have achieved and look forward now.”
Vettel denied he finished his qualifying session on the harder tyres for strategic reasons but said he hopes to reap the advantages, regardless. Rules state he must start today’s race on the same set of tyres he finished qualifying.
“I didn’t feel comfortable on the soft, and we decided to go on the hard,” he said.
“Hopefully, that will be an advantage. We’ll see. Hopefully, I can go longer and that gives me a bit of flexibility in the first stint. We’ll see where we are in the pack and then we do our best and go from there.”
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