The Qualifying Session ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix started under overcast skies, with an air temperature of 29 and track temperature of 46. The rain which threatened to throw the session into chaos fell only after the final ten drivers had completed their fuel saving laps at the end of Q3.
Red Bull Racing, having had to withdraw their cars from the Second Practice Session due to concerns over the strength of their suspension, were given the all clear by race stewards at the very start of the Third Practice Session and took part in today’s Qualifying.
Massa, Bourdais, Sutil and Hamilton were amongst the first cars to take to the track.
With twelve minutes remaining both Kovalainen and the BMWs took to the track for the first time, neglecting to run a banker lap despite the chances of rain later in the session. Kovalainen set his first competitive time on a 1:35.227. After their strong showing final practice, Kubica went fifth, before team-mate Heidfeld pushed him down to sixth.
Heidfeld then went on to set two personal bests through Sector One and Two, but lost control of the backend during the final corner, and instead chose to abandon the lap and continue straight on, down the pit lane. With six minutes remaining, Trulli went fastest, having set the fourth fastest time in practice, the Italian setting a time of 1:35.205.
In the closing minutes Alonso improved to ninth, with Webber up to fifth. His team-mate, Coulthard, was also on track and was able to improve from nineteenth to twelfth. Bourdais then left the track at turn four and crawled across the grass before continuing, but the incident almost cost his team-mate Vettel a position in Q2 due to waved yellow flags. Vettel eventually finished fourteenth, with Glock eleventh after Button went tenth fastest. Fisichella looked to have secured Force India a place in Q2, only for Barrichello to push him out in the dying seconds of the session.
Drivers knocked out during Q1 included Fisichella, Nakajima, Bourdais, Sato, Sutil and Davidson.
At the start of Q2, Kovalainen and Hamilton queued up at the end of the pit lane as skies darkened. Both drivers opted to take to the track on soft tyres, which unusually this weekend, don t appear to have an advantage over the harder compound possibly due to the fact the track has been resurfaced for this season.
Raikkonen and Massa also joined the track for Ferrari. Kovalainen was the first to set a time of 1:34.759, Hamilton then went second on a 1:35.026 having lost three tenths in the final sector as the Brit continued to struggle with oversteer. Raikkonen set a time of 1:34.188 to go fastest, with Massa setting a time of 1:34.967.
Trulli continued his impressive form, going third on a 1:34.960. Behind him, Webber went sixth on a 1:35.326 with Button setting a time of 1:35.414. With seven minutes remaining, Kubica improved to third on a 1:34.811 only for Heidfeld to underline his performance, setting a time of 1:34.648 to go second.
With three minutes forty left on the clock, Rosberg was the sole car on the track, as the German looked to improve from thirteenth. He set a personal best time through the first sector, but with a poor final sector he eventually finished the session a disappointing sixteenth. His team-mate Nakajima failed to qualify for the session, and although eighteenth will start the race twenty-second after taking a penalty for colliding with Kubica at the Australian Grand Prix last weekend.
A number of cars improved upon their positions at the end of Q2, with Glock going seventh, Massa second and Hamilton third. Button and Coulthard failed to make the cut in eleventh and twelfth. Piquet, Barrichello, Vettel and Rosberg also failed to progress into Q3.
Kovalainen once again queued up at the end of the pit lane, as temperatures fell and wind speed increased. Hamilton, Raikkonen and Massa formed up behind him before the session started.
Hamilton was four tenths faster than his team-mate through Sector One on his first run, but continued to struggle with oversteer. Kovalainen went fastest on a 1:36.076 with team-mate Hamilton second on a 1:37.510. Given their dominance this weekend, Ferrari quickly smashed through into first and second on 1:36.434 and 1:36.507 respectively.
Kubica then went fourth on a 1:37.188, whilst Heidfeld set a time to go seventh after taking to the grass on the exit of one corner. Trulli lay in sixth, with Webber eighth, Alonso ninth and Glock tenth as the second wave of laps began.
Hamilton once again opted for the softer compound as all drivers took to the track. His flying lap was compromised from the start as he closely followed a Toyota across the line. Raikkonen improved on a 1:36.230, but was unable to hold back Massa who went fastest on a 1:35.748. Hamilton improved to fourth.
Alonso and Heidfeld had yet to complete their flying laps as the remaining drivers returned to the pits in fuel saving mode. For Heidfeld at least, this proved costly as he lost two tenths, and a possible third position, in Sector One as he negotiated traffic at over 150mph.
Unofficial Timings for Qualifying:
Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps 1. Massa Ferrari 1:35.347 1:34.412 1:35.748 17 2. Raikkonen Ferrari 1:35.645 1:34.188 1:36.230 13 3. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 1:35.227 1:34.759 1:36.613 12 4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:35.392 1:34.627 1:36.709 18 5. Trulli Toyota 1:35.205 1:34.825 1:36.711 18 6. Kubica BMW Sauber 1:35.794 1:34.811 1:36.727 13 7. Heidfeld BMW Sauber 1:35.729 1:34.648 1:36.753 13 8. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:35.440 1:34.967 1:37.009 18 9. Alonso Renault 1:35.983 1:35.140 1:38.450 18 10. Glock Toyota 1:35.891 1:35.000 1:39.656 20 11. Button Honda 1:35.847 1:35.208 15 12. Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 1:36.058 1:35.408 12 13. Piquet Renault 1:36.074 1:35.562 12 14. Barrichello Honda 1:36.198 1:35.622 15 15. Vettel Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.111 1:35.648 15 16. Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:35.843 1:35.670 13 17. Fisichella Force India-Ferrari 1:36.240 9 18. Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:36.388 9 19. Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.677 8 20. Sato Super Aguri-Honda 1:37.087 9 21. Sutil Force India-Ferrari 1:37.101 10 22. Davidson Super Aguri-Honda 1:37.481 9