With track temperatures of 44 degrees centigrade, the 24 Formula One drivers and Pirelli’s PZero tyres faced a tough qualifying session in Malaysia: round two of the Formula One World Championship as well as one of the hottest and most humid races of the year.
Following a thrilling duel between Red Bull and McLaren, which went down to the final seconds, Australian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel claimed pole with a time of 1m34.870s, a tenth of a second ahead of the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton. Vettel’s time, set using Pirelli’s soft-compound tyres, was the fastest pole lap seen at the Sepang circuit since 2006, where the pole time was 1m33.840s.
Conditions stayed dry for qualifying, with most of the drivers starting the session on hard tyres. Towards the end of Q1, the two Ferrari drivers switched to Pirelli’s soft tyres to claim the top two times. All of the top six finishers in Q1 apart from the two McLarens used the soft tyres, while Red Bull also stuck with the hard tyres throughout Q1.
With the soft tyres proving to be more than a second a lap faster than the hard tyres, the soft tyre set the pace in Q2. The two McLarens of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were first and second fastest at the end of Q2.
Red Bull and McLaren were straight out for the final 10-minute Q3 session, with both teams using the soft tyres. They were the only four cars to go out until the final three minutes of the session, with the remaining six drivers giving themselves just one shot at pole position on the soft tyres.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery commented: “Malaysia is certainly one of the most demanding qualifying sessions of the year. The conditions stayed dry, so we were able to see the pure performance of our tyres without any outside factors. Whether or not that will be the case tomorrow remains to be seen, although it’s hard to imagine a weekend in Malaysia with no rain at all! We’ve heard that there’s a 90% chance of rain tomorrow, but I’m English so that probably means there’s going to be bright sunshine We’ve seen a performance gap of about 1.2 seconds per lap between the soft and the hard tyre and that obviously had a big effect on the strategies used during qualifying, which made for a thrilling session right up to the very final seconds. If today is anything to judge by, I think we’re in for a very exciting race tomorrow, where once more the strategy will be crucial.”