Malaysia Quali Recap: Vettel on pole in changable conditions, Massa pips Alonso for P2

Sebastian Vettel (1:49.674) won pole for the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix in a drying Q3 session after saving tyres for the race in Q2. Felipe Massa will start alongside the 2012 champion, having snuck by his teammate in the final moments of qualifying at the Sepang circuit. Alonso qualified third, with Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber rounding out the fastest five qualifiers. The action was fairly routine in Q1, though Red Bull left their only run until the final seven minutes. Things looked almost dire for Vettel and Webber, as they had to push a lap beyond their planned two lap run, with Webber managing ninth fastest in that session and Vettel only fifteenth.

Q2 was a bit messier, as rain began falling in the final few minutes. The Ferrari drivers barely made their first fast laps as they dropped the final fast lap times and got through to Q3, but Paul di Resta got caught out and spun and was knocked out in Q2. Vettel was slow in that session, but appeared to have used used tyres, saving rubber for the race. The rain also caught out Lotus, with Grosjean knocked out despite his teammate’s faster pace.

Webber made up for his bad weekend in Australia by setting the fastest time in the first practice Friday morning. As has become the norm, few drivers left the garages after installation laps for quite a bit of time in the first half of the ninety minute session. As the sky appeared clear and teams complained of a lack of rubber, only a handful of drivers set times at halfway. That changed shortly thereafter as most teams attempted flying laps in the same short time frame before everyone went off to see how the heat affected Pirelli’s hard compounds. Raikkonen, despite a battery issue, Vettel, Alonso, and Rosberg filled out the fastest five behind Webber, with the top four covered by less than four tenths.

Raikkonen continued to improve, setting the fastest time in the afternoon practice even as the action heated up despite rain. Vettel and Massa were the second and third fastest (the top three covered by less than a tenth) when rain fell and disrupted the fast running on the softer, medium, compound for the weekend. Alonso and Webber rounded out the top five. The track dampened and dried as it likely would during either qualifying or the race, allowing teams to continue to evaluate their performance at the circuit. Even with the changing conditions, there were few incidents, with only Hulkenberg’s spin in through pit in and an off track excursion for van der Garde.

Vettel led the way Saturday morning in dry conditions, despite being slowest until the final sixteen minutes of the session. Hamilton, Sutil, Webber, and Raikkonen followed in the generally uneventful session full of ever-changing fast times. The Ferrari drivers were slower than they had been through the other sessions, with Massa ending the final practice eighth and Alonso tenth fastest.

Q1:
No one rushed out as the twenty minutes of Q1 began, with the chance of rain on the decline and the track rubbered in better than it had been on Friday. Marussia took the first bite with Chilton, then teammate Bianchi and Bottas joined in. A small rush occurred two minutes into the session as most teams seemed to follow the others like lemmings onto the track.

Seven minutes into the session, Rosberg led Bottas, Gutierrez, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Ricciardo, Vergne, Bianchi, Pic, and Chilton as the top ten. Only twelve drivers had yet to set a time, though more and more were coming. At halfway, Rosberg led Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Massa, Maldonado, Bottas, Gutierrez, and Vergne as the top ten. Di Resta, Sutil, Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen, and Grosjean all had yet to set times, though the Force India drivers were out on track.

Lotus soon joined them, even as Sutil (1:36.809) went straight to fastest on his first flying lap. Di Resta went seventh, then dropped to eighth as Massa went faster. Webber finally joined in with just under eight minutes remaining, though his teammate still sat in the garage for another minute. Most drivers were using the medium, softer, compound straightaway, leaving extra hard compounds for the race.

Grosjean went fourth fastest on his first lap, only to drop to fifth as Raikkonen went second fastest. Neither Webber nor Vettel had set their times with five minutes to go, but without them, Vergne, Ricciardo, Bianchi, Chilton, Pic, and van der Garde sat in the relegation zone. Most of the top ten were all safely tucked away in the garage for the final few minutes, while both Marussia and Caterham also did so with four minutes to go.

Webber’s first lap was rather dismal, and the slowest of the session, while Vettel popped into eleventh, a second off Sutil, on his. In the final two minutes, everyone eleventh or slower was lapping. Webber managed fifteenth on his second lap while the team radioed that Vettel should “have another go, please.” Bottas, Vergne, Bianchi, Chilton, Pic, and van der Garde were all in the knockout zone with a minute remaining. Vergne did not improve as he started his final lap. Webber pushed to ninth in the final seconds, though Vettel’s middle sector on his own last lap was well off the pace. He pitted without improvement, soon dropping to fifteenth as Gutierrez moved up to eleventh. In the end, Sutil (1:36.809) led Raikkonen, Rosberg, Alonso, Grosjean, Button, di Resta, Hamilton, Webber, and Perez as the top ten.

Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Jean-Eric Vergne
18. Valtteri Bottas
19. Jules Bianchi
20. Charles Pic
21. Max Chilton
22. Giedo van der Garde

Q2:
di Resta started things off for the fifteen minutes of Q2 as the sun continued to beat down on the paddock in Sepang. Gutierrez soon followed, then did Sutil. Webber did not wait, heading out just over two minutes into the session. Just three minutes in, only Ferrari and Maldonado still remained in the garage. A minute later, di Resta was back and Ferrari out. Gutierrez set the first time, a slow one that Sutil (1:36.834) quickly bettered. Grosjean and Ricciardo slipped between the two, then Rosberg beat Sutil by nearly seven tenths. Hamilton also beat his old friend, four tenths slower than his current teammate. Rosberg led Hamilton, Sutil, Perez, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Gutierrez were the top eight and only men with nine minutes remaining.

Webber popped up to fastest, only to lose it again to Rosberg. Hamilton radioed rain at T5 and T6, even as Alonso posted his first time, sixth fastest. Massa then beat his teammate again. Many drivers had pitted just beyond halfway, with Rosberg still in charge. Webber, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Sutil, Massa, Alonso, Button, Vettel, and Perez completed those then about to move to Q3. Vettel, in a possible explanation of his slow pace, ran on a set of used tyres.

Di Resta looked for his first fast lap, only to get caught out by rain and run off the track. He completed the lap, but was five seconds off the pace of Gutierrez. Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Gutierrez, di Resta, and Maldonado were all in the knockout zone with five minutes to go. Only the last had yet to set a time. With the dampening conditions, di Resta spun again and everyone but Ricciardo scampered back to or remained in the garage. In the end, Rosberg (1:36.190) led Webber, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Sutil, Massa, Alonso, Button, Vettel, and Perez into the run for pole in Q3. Meanwhile, the rain fell harder in pit lane.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Romain Grosjean
12. Nico Hulkenberg
13. Daniel Ricciardo
14. Esteban Gutierrez
15. Paul di Resta
16. Pastor Maldonado

Q3:
Drivers queued up for the ten minutes of Q3, as everyone but Massa made their way directly out onto the track. DRS had been disabled, and Massa was quickly out and lapping as the rain began to ease. All drivers were on inters. Webber looked for a bit of track position, only to have Raikkonen slide on by the Australian. Some parts of the circuit appeared bone dry while in others, the drivers kicked up spray. Early times had Rosberg leading Hamilton, Perez, Raikkonen, only to have Vettel go fastest just around halfway. Rosberg then Massa, Alonso, and Hamilton rounded out the top five at halfway.

Vettel and Alonso both pitted for fresh inters, as did Massa, Sutil, and Raikkonen. All rejoined with around three minutes to go. Hamilton soon went fastest, beating out Webber and Vettel. The Briton sat on provisional pole with a half second margin on Webber. Raikkonen began a fast lap with a minute to go, but lost ground in the middle sector. He improved from his ninth to fourth. Rosberg also jumped up to third, displacing Vettel who then improved to fastest.

In the midst of that action, Alonso had jumped to provisional pole, only to lose it to Vettel, then Massa again beat his teammate in qualifying. Hamilton was to be the last man across the line remained fourth fastest. Vettel will start Sunday’s race on pole, continuing his form of 2012, with Massa next to him and Alonso directly behind.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamTimeLaps
1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:49.67413
2. Felipe MassaFerrari1:50.58715
3. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:50.72714
4. Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:51.69915
5. Mark WebberRed Bull1:52.24414
6. Nico RosbergMercedes1:52.51914
7. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:52.97012
8. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:53.17514
9. Adrian SutilForce India1:53.43912
10. Sergio PerezMcLaren1:54.13616
11. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:37.6367
12. Nico HulkenbergSauber1:38.12512
13. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:38.82212
14. Esteban GutierrezSauber1:38.22114
15. Paul di RestaForce India1:44.50910
16. Pastor MaldonadoWilliamsno time10
17. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:38.1578
18. Valtteri BottasWilliams1:38.2077
19. Jules BianchiMarussia1:38.4348
20. Charles PicCaterham1:39.3146
21. Max ChiltonMarussia1:39.6728
22. Giedo van der GardeCaterham1:39.9326
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