SEPANG – Lewis Hamilton starts from pole in today’s Malaysian Grand Prix with a warning from his Mercedes boss that Ferrari are a “serious threat” despite Sebastian Vettel languishing last on the grid.
Ferrari had been quickest until Vettel had an engine gremlin that saw him fail to set a qualifying time.
From nowhere, Hamilton then registered his ninth pole position of the season, 70th of his career and fifth at Sepang after being off the pace all weekend.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff warned that Ferrari would still pose a big danger to Hamilton after the Silver Arrows struggled throughout Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions.
Hamilton could go no faster than fifth in practice, but in qualifying his Mercedes out of the blue stormed to a lap record of 1min 30.076sec, a whisker ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
“There’s no doubt this session was also a tough moment for Ferrari, with Sebastian unable to take part, but there are no points scored on Saturday,” said Wolff.
“They have had the strongest race pace this weekend and will be a serious threat in the race.”
Hamilton had endured a torrid Friday as his Mercedes took a dislike to an aerodynamic upgrade package.
The three-time world champion and his mechanics opted to strip the car of the updates for Saturday and it did the trick.
“I don’t really know where the pole lap came from, I surprised myself,” admitted Hamilton.
“I don’t really know what happened to Sebastian. It’s very unfortunate for him, but of course we have to try to maximise on every opportunity that we get.”
Vettel’s world championship hopes suffered a huge blow when he lost power leaving his Ferrari without a completed lap in first qualifying.
“Who knows what will happen,” said Vettel, who is 28 points behind Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.
“The race is tomorrow not today. We have a very quick car and we saved some tyres.
“Anything can happen – you saw that in Singapore two weeks ago how everything can change.”
In Singapore, Vettel had started from pole only to crash on a rain-soaked first lap as Hamilton won from fifth on the grid to extend his championship lead.
Raikkonen was a first-bend casualty in the Singapore carnage along with Max Verstappen. “We’ll try to get further than 100m on Sunday,” Raikkonen said.
The Finn, who recorded his maiden grand prix win at Malaysia back in 2003, thought he might have pipped Hamilton to pole but was edged out by just four-hundredths of a second.
“When you get that close it’s a disappointment,” said Raikkonen. “We will try to make sure we do the first two corners well and go from there.”
The Red Bull of Verstappen was third on his 20th birthday, almost half a second behind Raikkonen.
He will be joined on the second row by teammate Daniel Ricciardo who was just 0.054 seconds slower.
“That was the present I gave Max – half a tenth,” laughed Ricciardo.
Sunday’s Grand Prix will be the 19th and last at steamy Sepang.
The race will disappear from the calendar after the government decided it would no longer cover the US$67 million (RM283 million) a year cost of the event. — AFP