Sepang: Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position Saturday for the Malaysian Grand Prix after again edging out teammate Jenson Button to make it an all-McLaren front row in successive races.
Hamilton made it back-to-back poles with a time of 1 minute 36.219 seconds at Sepang International Circuit, beating Button by a tenth of a second and giving the team its first-ever pole in Malaysia for Sunday’s race.
Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher was third fastest, ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, who will take a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox and will start tenth.
World champion Sebastian Vettel qualified sixth, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean seventh, and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg eighth. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Sauber’s Sergio Perez completed the top 10.
Rain held off throughout qualifying but is an ever-present threat at Malaysia and could well affect Sunday’s race.
Hamilton had a skip in his step as he emerged from the car, in contrast to his post-race demeanor in Australia when he was very disappointed to have finished third after starting from pole.
“I don’t know if (pole) is the best place possible to start here, its a long haul to turn one,” Hamilton said.
“Its about positioning, its about tire management. Its a tricky circuit with the track temperatures and the humidity outside — its going to be tough tomorrow.”
Button was again second-best to his teammate but the 2009 Malaysia winner will be bolstered by the memory of last weekend in Australia when he beat Hamilton off the line and sped to victory.
“I can’t complain too much — its good for us as a team to be in the front row,” Button said. “You want it the other way around, but Lewis did a great lap at the start.”
Schumacher came inside two tenths of his first pole position for six years but was enthused by the progress Mercedes is making.
“This was the maximum that was available,” Schumacher said. “Its a great achievement. When you think about who is behind us, who would have thought last year?”
Meanwhile, Spanish team HRT will hope their qualifying woes are behind them after setting a time fast enough to make the cut for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix at the fast, flowing Sepang circuit.
Pedro de la Rosa will line up 23rd on the grid after clocking in at one minute 43.655 seconds, comfortable inside the 107 percent cut-off time of 1:43.974.
Karthikeyan will line up alongside the Spaniard after he set a time of 1:43.655.
“We’ve run with DRS for the first time and there’s still a lot more to come but at least I managed to do one lap of qualifying. There’s more to come,” de la Rosa said.
The 41-year-old is already setting his sights on rival backmarkers Marussia and is hoping he can take the fight to them at the next race in China.
“We shouldn’t be too unhappy about it because no one thought we would qualify here. We’ve come here with an improved and more reliable car so I’m pretty happy.”
HRT have been playing catch-up after missing pre-season testing for the third year in a row and failing to qualify for last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
Friday practice was the first time the cars hit the track with serious intent, the drivers completing a total of 66 laps around the 5.543 km Sepang circuit.
On Thursday Karthikeyan said if the team managed to qualify in Malaysia they should be able to qualify anywhere.
“As you said earlier this is a very tough track,” he said. “If we manage to qualify here then at least we don’t have to bother about the qualifying issues anymore.”