In Malaysia in March it always rains in the afternoons. And for the top three in qualifying it was also Groundhog Day.
* Qualifying was extended after tropical rain during Q2 caused a half-hour delay before Q3. At the resumption of the session both Williams and the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson took to the track with Wet tyres while the rest of the top ten chose Inters. Bottas and Massa quickly realised that Inters was the faster choice and returned to the pits for the faster tyre.
* The final moments of Qualifying were thrown into confusion with Nico Rosberg slowing down on what was expected to be his final flying lap of Q3. With all of the grid now on Inters, Rosberg seemed to be bucking the conventional wisdom that the first flying lap on Inters gets the maximum bite from the tyre.
Behind him, Lewis Hamilton put in the fastest first sector of anyone and looked to be going for a time. When he reached Rosberg, the German was slow to get out of his way compromising Hamilton’s lap time. After which Hamilton abandoned the lap and cruised round in front of Rosberg. When it came to the subsequent lap, neither improved, allowing Sebastian Vettel to grab P2, and less than 0.2 away from pole!
As Eddie Jordan commented: “Nikki Lauda is going to have to talk to them, they could so easily have been lost out in all that situation…in fact Rosberg did.”
Curiously, Nico Rosberg got onto team radio to ask about dry lines during Q3, a question his engineer wasn’t allowed to answer because of the ‘driver coaching rules’ and presumably a question that Rosberg knew couldn’t be answered. Very strange…
* The 90% prediction of rain was fully vindicated at the start of Q2 when the cars had got halfway through their first flying lap and the skies opened. It had been vital to get to the front of the queue at the end of the pitlane. Nico Rosberg was close to the front, but a failure of the Mercedes engine to fire on Lewis Hamilton’s car meant that he was slow out and got stuck behind Marcus Ericsson and Kimi Raikkonen for his one flying lap. He scraped home in P8.
* Kimi Raikkonen wasn’t so lucky. Although he was ahead of Hamilton on the road, he couldn’t get past the Sauber of Ericsson and ended up in P11 after the first lap. There were already a few drops in Turns 7 and 8 on the first lap, but the second lap (in which Hamilton made a neat move passing both Ericsson and Raikkonen) became impossible when the circuit was drenched and all cars came in.
* Manor-Marussia weren’t counting their chickens about being included on Sunday’s grid after failing to qualify within 107% of the P1 time in Q1. Roberto Merhi made it out on track, but Will Stevens was garage-bound after a fuel-system problem discovered in FP3 couldn’t be fixed in time. Bernie Ecclestone has called the team “disgraceful” and suggested it would have been better that they were cut from the grid – however the decision will be down to race stewards.
* Jenson Button got a psychological victory by outqualifying Fernando Alonso as the McLaren-Honda duo secured P17 and P18 on the grid. The team have never failed to get both cars out of Q1 in successive races – although this season is likely to bring a host of similar all-time-low records before the Honda hybrid engine is working smoothly. Bizarrely, with the track temperature up at 54C in Q1 Jenson reported that he was struggling to switch the tyres on.
* Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen had differing fortunes for Toro Rosso, but both were impressive in their own way. In Q1 Sainz had put his Toro Rosso (yes, with a Renault engine) up to P4 at the end of the session with a mighty lap of 1:39.814 (almost a second quicker than Max Verstappen). Sainz Jr. lost out in Q2 when he locked up in Turn 14 on his one flying lap and went straight on, ruining his time. Verstappen got through and was monumentally impressive in the wet conditions of Q3. With no experience of the track in those conditions he put his Toro Rosso ahead of Sebastian Vettel and sat at P3 after the first runs.
As other cars got their acts together he was pushed down to P6, but he is still the first teenager in 54 years to have qualified as high as P6 (and thoroughly deserved it).
* Daniel Ricciardo got his best qualifying start of the year putting his Red Bull P4 on the grid alongside Nico Rosberg. The ‘honey badger’ was half a second quicker than Daniil Kvyat and a whole second quicker than the Williams cars.
* Williams will line up in P7 and P9 after failing to make progress when they finally switched to Inters in Q3. In between them they have the Lotus of Romain Grosjean.