March 24, 2012
Hamilton on Malaysian GP pole
By SPORTS NETWORK
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - One week after claiming the top-two starting positions for the Formula One season-opener in Melbourne, Australia, McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button did it again for the Malaysia Grand Prix.
Hamilton is 2-0 in qualifying this year after winning the pole position on Saturday at Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit. The Briton turned a lap in one minute, 36.219 seconds around the tricky 3.44-mile (5.543-kilometer) course for his and McLaren's first pole in this event.
It was also Hamilton's 21st career F1 pole. He qualified 0.15 seconds ahead of Button, who finished second in last week's qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix as well.
Hamilton topped the time charts in both practice sessions on Friday at Sepang.
"It's been a good weekend so far," Hamilton said. "I think it's been a tough day for us with the changeable weather conditions and the temperatures climbing. We made some setup changes to the car. Nonetheless, we still managed to do some good times, even with these guys [Button and Schumacher] pushing behind."
Button began his season by winning the Australian GP. He passed Hamilton for the lead on the opening lap and then dominated from there. Hamilton ended up finishing third.
"Qualifying has been pretty good to me in the last two races, so I can't complain too much," Button said. "I think it's good for us as a team to be on the front row again."
Button started on the pole and won the Malaysian GP during this 2009 championship season, driving for then-Brawn GP. He finished second in this race last year.
Michael Schumacher qualified third in his Mercedes. Schumacher had his best qualifying performance since starting second in the October 2008 Japanese Grand Prix. The record seven-time F1 champion retired after the '06 season but returned to the sport in 2010.
"We managed to work the car very well over the weekend," Schumacher said. "Third here is a very tight business if you look who is behind us and how close everything is going. We can be more than happy about what we've achieved, and I look forward to tomorrow."
Mark Webber from Red Bull finished fourth in qualifying, while Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen placed fifth. Raikkonen received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change following Friday's practices and therefore will start 10th.
For the second-straight grand prix, two-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel qualified a disappointing sixth. The Red Bull driver won a record 15 poles and qualified no worse than third during the 2011 season. Vettel will start fifth in the Malaysian GP due to Raikkonen's penalty.
"There's not been much time to react since Australia - only one week," Vettel said. "The McLarens were strong in Australia, and they are strong here, so they are the ones to beat. I think in race trim we might look a bit better, but nonetheless, I think you can see that we don't have the easiest car to drive. We are aware of that and are pushing very hard.
Vettel has won the last two Malaysian GPs. He finished second to Button in Australia.
Romain Grosjean from Lotus will start sixth, while Schumacher's Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, will roll off from the seventh spot. Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso and Sauber's Sergio Perez will start eighth and ninth, respectively.
Sunday's 56-lap Malaysian GP is scheduled to start at 4 a.m. (ET).