Jenson Button has captured his second consecutive pole position in Malaysia, going fastest once again in qualifying, this time for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. The session wasn’t plain sailing for all, and Ferrari appeared to struggle as they fell down the tables in Q1. Toyota looked good as did Red Bull. McLaren couldn’t find pace in the searing heat and Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen failed to get any further than Q2, the former finishing one place ahead in thirteenth.
Q1 was perhaps the most surprising of all three sessions, with BMW only just finding enough time to make it through and the fact that Felipe Massa, last year’s championship runner-up, failing to progress into Q2. The Ferraris actually seemed to have acceptable speed, enough to get out of Q1 at any rate, but sitting in the garage towards the end of the session, the midfield started to pump in some competitive laps and both drivers could only sit there and watch their names tumble down the order. Massa was knocked-out in sixteenth and Raikkonen scraped through in fourteenth.
Once again though, it was the Brawns who were setting the benchmark, with Rubens Barrichello taking the honours in the first twenty minute session and Jenson Button seventh, but confident. The Toyota’s also ran well with Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock going second and third, the TF109 looking to be really hooked into the Sepang circuit.
Jenson Button came alive in Q2 though and showed his real pace, setting the fastest lap by 0.2s from Jarno Trulli who once again underlined the pace of the Toyota car. Timo Glock wasn’t too far away in fourth and 0.3s shy of his team mate’s pace, while Mark Webber was able to pop his Red Bull into third. Kimi Raikkonen managed to get into Q3 by setting the seventh quickest lap.
Both McLaren’s failed to match the lap times of the front runners though and their qualifying was over after the fifteen minute session. Lewis Hamilton got the better of team mate Heikki Kovalainen, but really the who beat who battle is academic as Hamilton qualified thirteenth ahead of fourteenth placed driver Kovalainen.
For the third run of the afternoon, it was clearly going to be all about Brawn. Toyota attempted to shake up the order with Jarno Trulli setting a quick lap early on, but was soon demoted only to come back against Button to claim provisional pole. Sebastian Vettel ensured he was in the mix, although the German will be sent back ten places for his continuation with a damaged car in Melbourne last weekend.
It was Jenson Button’s final run that got him pole position, and although others improved and threatened the Brawn driver, ultimately nobody could match or better the pace. Nico Rosberg once again found himself in Q3, but also once again, the positioning of the practice sessions would be turned around on Saturday. Sixth in qualifying, which will become fourth on the grid tomorrow is a good effort though and the German driver has a good chance for a podium.
Mark Webber is Red Bull’s best hope for some serious points in Malaysia, although the lap times do indicate that Vettel is getting more out of the RB5 at the moment. Also of note is the apparent under-performing of the BMWs. Nick Heidfeld couldn’t get himself clear of Q2 and Robert Kubica could only manage eighth fastest. In Melbourne we could see that both drivers still have the talent to improve in the race, but qualifying certainly isn’t going their way at the moment.
Ninth and tenth went to Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso respectively. Raikkonen qualified ninth in Melbourne as well, but tenth for Alonso is an improvement. The double world champion is carrying an ear infection this weekend and completed limited running on Friday. In the third session this afternoon, the Spaniard also only did a single run to set his lap time, possibly indicating a high fuel load for tomorrow (we’ll know a little later today).
So there we have it, once again Jenson Button looks favourite to take his second victory of 2009, his career third, while Toyota will hopefully hold on to the Brawn and harass to the end of tomorrow’s race. A grid, which will include the penalties of Sebastian Vettel and Rubens Barrichello will be posted shortly.