Ferrari bounced back from the disappointment of Melbourne in the best possible way by locking out the front row of the grid for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
McLaren line up behind them – but an incident involving Nick Heidfeld in qualifying may lead the stewards to penalise Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen.
Almost all the cars hurried out onto the track fearing rain that didn’t arrive. The notable exceptions were the BMWs and Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren.
Force India once again said they were aiming to reach the final part of qualifying but Giancarlo Fisichella narrowly missed out on making the cut despite being almost a second quicker than team mate Adrian Sutil.
As the final runs began Sebastien Bourdais went off and missed out on making the top 16 but his team mate Sebastian Vettel made it through again.
Kazuki Nakajima was also knocked out – and following his ten-place grid penalty incurred at the Australian Grand Prix he will start dead last.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part one
17. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’36.240
18. Kazuki Nakajima 1’36.388
19. Sebastien Bourdais 1’36.677
20. Takuma Sato 1’37.087
21. Adrian Sutil 1’37.101
22. Anthony Davidson 1’37.481
With some teams still fearing rain both McLaren drivers queued up at the exit of the pit lane to start their laps as quickly as possible. Heikki Kovalainen beat Lewis Hamilton, and Hamilton was sufficiently worried about his time to set another to avoid the possibility of failing to make the final round.
Kimi Raikkonen was emphatically fastest but Felipe Massa, like Hamilton, needed another lap to guarantee his place in the final session.
The bottom six was particularly close and Nico Rosberg was caught out when he made a mistake on the final sector and ended up 16th. Jenson Button narrowly failed to beat Fernando Alonso to the final place in the top ten.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part two
11. Jenson Button 1’35.208
12. David Coulthard 1’35.408
13. Nelson Piquet 1’35.562
14. Rubens Barrichello 1’35.622
15. Sebastian Vettel 1’35.648
16. Nico Rosberg 1’35.670
Ferrari maintained their advantage in the final part of qualifying and easily locked out the front row. Massa took pole position but his margin of advantage over his team mate – half a second – suggested he was running a lighter fuel load.
The McLarens struggled – both started the session on hard tyres as they seemed to be struggling with the softer compounds. Only a final effort on softer tyres got Hamilton onto the second row of the grid alongside – and, crucially, behind – Kovalainen. Only two-thousandths of a second separated him from fifth-placed Jarno Trulli.
But after their laps came a development that may have repercussions later: Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso were just starting their final laps as the remaining cars were touring into the pits slowly to save fuel.
The pair dodged through the field but the stewards may take a dim view of what happened – particularly the role of the two McLaren drivers, who were dawdling on the racing line on the approach to turn three.
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Felipe Massa 1’35.748
2. Kimi Raikkonen 1’36.230
3. Heikki Kovalainen 1’36.613
4. Lewis Hamilton 1’36.709
5. Jarno Trulli 1’36.711
6. Robert Kubica 1’36.727
7. Nick Heidfeld 1’36.753
8. Mark Webber 1’37.009
9. Fernando Alonso 1’38.450
10. Timo Glock 1’39.656