SEPANG (Malaysia) • Formula One world championship leader Nico Rosberg believes he can still win today's Malaysian Grand Prix from second on the grid, despite being comprehensively outpaced by title rival Lewis Hamilton in qualifying.
The German was more than four tenths of a second down on his Mercedes team-mate in the top-10 Q3 shoot-out yesterday.
But the confident Rosberg alluded to Hamilton's penchant for poor getaways this season because of an ongoing Mercedes clutch issue.
He had taken advantage most recently at Monza in Italy when Hamilton dropped from pole position to sixth at the start, enabling the German to cruise to an easy victory.
"Second place doesn't mean victory is not possible, we have seen that many times," said Rosberg, who leads the drivers' championship by eight points from Hamilton. "I am still optimistic for tomorrow."
Hamilton hoped his starting problems were behind him and would not be an issue in the race today.
MALAYSIAN GP GRID
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
2 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
1 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull
2 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull
5 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
6 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India
8 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India
9 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren
10 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams
11 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams
22 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren
"We're trying to understand it a bit more and trying to predict what it's going to deliver. We've both generally got good starts in the last race so we are improving gradually," said the Briton.
Hamilton's pace in practice and qualifying yesterday was untouchable. But with Red Bull and Ferrari filling the next two rows on the grid, the three-time world champion feels today's race is by no means a foregone conclusion or a guaranteed one-two for Mercedes.
"They are going to be very quick, they've been quick all weekend," he said of the threat from Red Bull and Ferrari. "It will be close, for sure."
Hamilton would not be drawn on making any race predictions, but was in a relaxed and confident mood after a week where everything has gone right for him.
"When I'm on top of it like I have been this weekend, it generally goes my way on a Sunday. Let's hope that pattern continues," he said.
Yesterday, Hamilton clocked the fastest lap ever recorded at the 5.543km circuit in 1min 32.850sec.
His amazing drive eclipsed the pole position lap record for Sepang set by Juan Pablo Montoya in a Williams in 2004.
But Hamilton still reckoned it was not perfect. "I really enjoyed the lap. But it could have been faster," he said.
Rosberg's best lap was hampered by a wobble at the remodelled final hairpin turn 15, which now has a tricky negative camber to negotiate under braking.
"Lewis' lap was very quick so it was always going to be difficult," said the German. "I would have been close, but unfortunately I made a mistake in the last corner."
Third on the grid will be birthday boy Max Verstappen, who celebrated turning 19 on Friday before clocking 1:33.420 a day later, less than 0.2sec off the pace of Rosberg.
"The whole weekend has been quite positive for me, we made some changes that worked," said the teenager.
Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo completes the second row of the grid for today's race. Next comes the Ferraris of four-time Malaysia GP winner Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
F1 MALAYSIA GRAND PRIX
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