Sebastian Vettel puts his Ferrari between the 2 Mercedes at the end of a very rainy Malaysian Grand Prix Qualifying session. The rain in Malaysia definitely lived up to its name as the great equalizer; it allowed Sebastian Vettel to put in a lap time only 7 hundredths of a second slower than Lewis Hamilton’s best lap in Q3.
Sebastian Vettel was not the only driver to benefit from the rain in Malaysia, Max Verstappen became the youngest driver to make it into Q3 after a spectacular drive. Max in his Torro Rosso put down the 6th fastest time in the wet Q3. Marcus Ericsson also used the circumstances caused by the weather to his advantage to force his way into Q3, by moving in front of Kimi Raikkonen in the last turn of Q2.
The track was dry throughout Q1, but it was plain to see rain was coming. Giant black storm clouds were quickly approaching the track which put a sense of urgency throughout the grid. Many teams, including Mercedes, didn’t waste anytime and went straight to the Medium tires.
By the end of Q1 the track was still dry, but it would be the end of qualifying for the 2 McLarens, and the 2 Manors. The later failing to qualify at all, falling 4 tenths of a second outside the 107% time of 1:46.217. Merhi’s best time was 1:46.667. Stevens failed to qualify due to a fuel system issue, which kept him from making a lap in Q1.
At the beginning of Q2 the track was still dry, but the sky was darker than ever. The sense of urgency had reached its peak with all the teams realizing they were going to have one shot at getting into Q3. When pit lane opened for Q2 all the teams lined up with Vettel leading the pack. The 2 Mercedes had actually joined late which almost kept Hamilton out of Q3! Hamilton was not happy about that, and he let his team know on his way into the pits.
It was obvious the drivers knew they had one chance in Q2 to get it right. The drivers were driving really wide and blocking others from getting in front of them. It was all out war to get the best possible dry lap time before the looming clouds dropped all their rain on the track. Max Verstappen moved from one side of the track to the other to keep Grosjean from getting ahead of him.
Kimi Raikkonen’s day was as dark as the clouds above. He didn’t make it out of Q2 after catching Marcus Ericsson at the end of his dry lap. Kimi tried the inside, but it wasn’t going to be possible or worth it. Unfortunately Kimi had to settle for 11th.
Obviously the rain made for an exciting qualifying session, despite the delay it caused in Q3. Once things got back underway there was standoff of sorts. Teams weren’t sure which tire to begin the session on. Would full wets get the best times, or would it be intermediates. Ferrari made a lot minute change to the inters which turned out to be the correct choice. Despite the initial uncertainty all teams ended up having enough time to get decent laps in on the optimum tire.
In the en the rain helped to equalize the field, as it usually does, but it seemed to help some drivers much more than others. One thing is for sure, the excitement of qualifying is sure to cary over into the race; since the weather for the race is looking to be very similar to what we saw in qualifying.
Grosjean Penalized with a 2 Grid Spot Penalty and will start 10th.
FIA will allow both Manor F1 Cars to start on the last row despite their inability to put down a lap time faster than 107% of Hamilton’s Q1 time.