Lewis Hamilton took his 70th career pole position in Malaysia earlier today, followed closely by the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
The big story of the day though was the retirement of Sebastian Vettel from Q1, meaning that Ferrari’s main man will start from the back of the grid tomorrow. To break this down, and look at the other main talking points from qualifying, here is what we learned from Saturday in Sepang.
1 Thats a Hamil(tonne) of pressure on Ferrari
Mercedes had been struggling all weekend with setup issues, resulting in the team effectively splitting strategy with Hamilton on an older setup and Bottas using the newer aero package. With Vettel's premature departure from the session, this left a struggling Mercedes, the lone Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, and the Red Bull pairing of Ricciardo and Verstappen (who celebrated his 20th birthday today) to fight at the front.
The first two sessions saw cagey times and no real representation of ultimate pace with Bottas just shading the field in Q2. The rest of the cars occupying the top ten shootout included the now resurgent Mclaren, who appear to be becoming Q3 regulars, the ever consistent Force India package. and the lone Renault of Nico Hulkenberg.
The final few minutes of qualifying saw a Ferrari-Mercedes shootout, with Hamilton edging Kimi by less than a tenth. Kimi has to get a strong start tomorrow and make his Ferrari as wide as possible, otherwise Lewis looks certain to win; He has converted the last six out of seven poles into wins and in his current mindset Lewis will want to close this championship out as soon as possible.
It almost feels like we missed out on what could have been today with Kimi showing good pace, and knowing that Sebastian usually gets more out of the car...
2 Ferrari's end of season crash continues
Coming into qualifying Ferrari seemed to have good pace. However, at the tail end of FP3 Vettel needed the final of his allocated internal combustion engines to be fitted. This puts him under some component pressure for the final few races as he has now used all the engine and turbo components available to him. His initial engine installation laps left him complaining at a lack of turbo power over the radio. His next set of laps went no better, having to limp back to his despairing team.
Vettel starting from the back of the grid represents a realistic end to his title contention. Its a good thing these F1 cars have seatbelts because something needs to stop the damage their collapse is having on the championship.
Q1 may have stung more potently for the Scuderia as all five cars that were eliminated had Ferrari powertrains.
3 Gasly gives it some gas
In their partnership, Dani Kvyat was out-qualified 19-12 by Carlos Sainz. In his new teammate though it would appear the Spaniard has stronger competition, with the talented youngster managing to go a tenth of a second quicker in Q1.
In Q2 Carlos fought back to claim 14th place over Gasly in 15th. With only 0.15 separating the two, Gasly could be on for a strong race tomorrow, and has a good opportunity to demonstrate his credentials for a full time Toro Rosso seat for next year.
4 The fall of Haas?
Interestingly, Haas haven't been able to develop much so far this year compared to their midfield opposition. They had been working on a new front wing and floor that should have arrived for this weekend, but issues have meant they are going without and they suffered today in qualifying.
Q1 eliminations for both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen represent their fourth and sixth time respectively that they have been eliminated in Q1 this season. In comparison they had been pushing for top ten starting births much more regularly during the earlier rounds this season.
Does this slower pace over one lap show an ominous decline for the rest of the season and even 2018 for F1's resident yanks?
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