Lewis Hamil­ton takes pole at Malaysian GP

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamil­ton put him­self in the best pos­si­ble po­si­tion to wrest back the lead in the For­mula One drivers cham­pi­onship by claim­ing pole po­si­tion for the Malaysian Grand Prix yes­ter­day.

Hamil­ton beat his team­mate and ti­tle ri­val Nico Ros­berg by four tenths of a sec­ond in qual­i­fy­ing.

The British driver headed Mercedes' first-ever front-row lock­out in Malaysia and set a new For­mula One lap record at the Sepang In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit with a time of 1 minute, 32.850 sec­onds.

While Hamil­ton has been un­con­vinc­ing in race starts this sea­son, his im­pres­sive per­for­mance Satur­day should pro­vide a timely con­fi­dence boost af­ter Ros­berg's hat trick of race vic­to­ries in the pre­ced­ing races.

"To­day the car felt fan­tas­tic, I re­ally en­joyed the lap," Hamil­ton said. "It could have been faster.

"I don't feel any­thing is go­ing to stop us (in the race). As a team we have great pace and if you look at the last race, we had pretty good starts and we con­tin­u­ously work on that. That's not some­thing I'm go­ing to let in my mind. I'm think­ing of get­ting a launch off the grid and the car feels re­ally good on the long runs."

Ros­berg was marginally off Hamil­ton's pace through­out his last fly­ing lap and a wob­ble on the fi­nal cor­ner put paid to his pole chances. He de­nied that he went out on that last lap only tar­get­ing sec­ond, given Hamil­ton's su­perb time.

"Of course I was go­ing for pole, what else would I be do­ing out there?" Ros­berg said. "It would have been close but I made a mis­take go­ing into the last cor­ner.

"Sec­ond place, I have to live with that now, it doesn't mean a vic­tory is not pos­si­ble to­mor­row. I'm still op­ti­mistic."

Red Bull drivers Max Ver­stap­pen and Daniel Ric­cia­rdo qual­i­fied third and fourth re­spec­tively, ahead of the Fer­rari pair of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Kimi Raikko­nen.

Force In­dia drivers Ser­gio Perez and Nico Hulken­berg were seventh and eighth, fol­lowed by McLaren's Jen­son But­ton ninth for his 300th F1 start, and Felipe Massa of Wil­liams 10th.

While Mercedes will be ex­pected to con­vert its front row spots into a race win — the team has won all but one race this sea­son, with the ex­cep­tion be­ing caused by a col­li­sion be­tween its two drivers — Red Bull and Fer­rari had both shown strong race pace in prac­tice, equal to that of the Mercedes.

"We've made changes af­ter Sin­ga­pore and it seemed to work," Ver­stap­pen said. "The long run pace looked promis­ing and I'm very pleased to qual­ify be­hind the Mercedes cars."

Race strat­egy is not ex­pected to be sig­nif­i­cant on Sun­day, with two pit­stops and long stints on the medium and hard tires ex­pected by all run­ners due to the low lev­els of tire degra­da­tion on the very smooth new sur­face.

"I don't think it's go­ing to be too ex­cit­ing strat­egy-wise be­cause the tires are pretty sim­i­lar," Ros­berg said. "I don't think it'll be such a de­cid­ing fac­tor."

Two-time world cham­pion Fer­nando Alonso made no se­ri­ous at­tempt to get out of the Q1 qual­i­fy­ing pe­riod due to a slew of grid penal­ties for in­stalling all new en­gine parts, and was go­ing to start last re­gard­less.

Lewis Hamil­ton (cen­tre) to­gether with Nico Ros­berg and Max Ver­stap­pen

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