Sabastian Vettel was dominant on Saturday, topping the time sheets for the final practice session and grabbing the pole position in qualifying for the Formula 1 Malaysia Grand Prix.
Red Bull Racing had a strong showing overall as Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber qualified fifth. Red Bull was very fast in practice and qualifying last week in Australia as well, but wasn’t as successful in translating that into race speed. Vettel landed a podium finish in Melbourne, but three time World Champions don’t settle for podiums, and he will be hunting a win in Malaysia. Aussie Grit will be looking to move up from last week’s sixth place finish.
Ferrari will occupy the second and third starting spots on the grid, with Felipe Massa completing the front row and Fernando Alonso in third. Ferrari leads the constructor’s points at the moment and if they can repeat or improve upon the second and fourth place finishes they had in Melbourne it will allow them to widen the gap between themselves and second place Lotus F1 Team.
Lotus once again didn’t look stunning in qualification, with Kimi Raikkonen finding the seventh spot and Romain Grosjean qualifying eleventh, but was able to make up ground on race day in Australia, or at least that was the case for Raikkonen.
Following his win in Melbourne, Raikkonen said that he could have gone faster but wanted to save the car in case something unforeseen happened. He said the same after he was the fastest during FP2 in Malaysia. He will need that speed on race day because despite qualifying seventh, Raikkonen will start from the tenth position due to a penalty for impeding during qualifying.
According to race officials Kimi unnecessarily held up Nico Rosberg of Mercedes who is occupying the sixth spot on the starting grid. We will see just how fast Raikkonen’s car is on Sunday when he has to fight his way from the middle of the pack, but that wasn’t a problem for him in Australia. Of course if Lotus can perfect the two-stop pit strategy that helped Raikkonen win the F1 season opener, the Iceman will be near the front of the pack in a lot of races in 2013.
Mercedes is sitting pretty on the grid with Lewis Hamilton starting fourth and Rosberg in sixth. If both drivers manage to finish the race it will be an automatic improvement for the team compared to last week when Rosberg was forced to retire and Hamilton finished fifth.
McLaren wheel men Jenson Button and Sergio Perez managed to qualify eighth and tenth respectively despite much publicized struggles to squeeze speed from their cars. They will catch a break as their starting positions will bump up to seventh and ninth due to Raikkonen’s penalty.
Adrian Sutil continued to turn heads in his return to the cockpit for Force India as he qualified ninth and will start eighth.
The key things to watch for in Malaysia will be how the differing tire degradation impacts the teams and how they react to it. Lotus has done the best job so far of managing tires and pit stops and if they can do it again Raikkonen might score back-to-back wins to begin the season. Red Bull has to do better with tires if they want to improve on their Melbourne results and keep Ferrari and Lotus from running away in the championship races. McLaren desperately needs to show that they can hang with race pace, and Mercedes will aim to avoid once again pairing a strong finish with a DNF. Sutil and Force India will be the dark horse looking to play spoiler.
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