Following record track temperatures in excess of 60 degrees centigrade on Friday, Saturday’s qualifying got underway in the cooler conditions of late afternoon with 43 degrees centigrade.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton went fastest on the soft tyre in qualifying (as he did in FP3 earlier today) with a pole time of 1m32.850s: more than six seconds faster than last year’s fastest time, set in Q2, of 1m39.269s, and close to the fastest-ever lap run round Sepang, which was 1m32.582s (set by Fernando Alonso in first qualifying in 2005).
A mixture of soft and medium tyres were used throughout qualifying, with the exception of Williams driver Felipe Massa, who completed an installation lap on the hard compound. Different tactics were used by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo – who used just one set of medium tyres to get through to Q2 – while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso also did just one run on mediums, as he will start at the back tomorrow due to grid penalties.
Track temperatures continued to fall throughout Q2, with all the drivers using the soft tyre from start to finish and the majority just completing one run. This means that all the top 10 will start on the soft tyre tomorrow, which is around 1.2 seconds faster than the medium.
The final top-10 shoot-out to decide pole, from which the win has been claimed in Malaysia nine times in 17 races, was also run entirely on the soft tyre. Some light drops of rain fell in the middle of Q3, with Hamilton securing his pole during the first run.
Two stops is likely to form the optimal race strategy, with wear and degradation reduced compared to previous years as a result of the new track surface. However, the weather forecast predicts some rain showers, which could alter the complexion of the race.
“The new track surface has clearly benefitted grip and traction, enabling one of the fastest-ever laps of Malaysia to be run – more than six seconds faster than last year’s pole – using our soft tyre,” said Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director.
“We had falling track temperatures throughout the session, which presented a bit of a moving target for the teams, but they quickly got on top of that. There’s still something of a question mark over the weather but with all the top 10 starting on the soft tyre, we should see some interesting strategies at the front end of the field as the long runs seem closely matched.”
How the tyres behaved:
Hard: Used just by Felipe Massa for an installation run in Q1, obligatory for race.
Medium: Seen in Q1 but not used thereafter: some drivers may not run it in the race.
Soft: Used to set second-fastest lap in Sepang’s history: all the top 10 will start on this.