SEPANG • Formula One world championship leader Lewis Hamilton hailed an amazing turnaround yesterday, after taking pole for the Malaysian Grand Prix with title rival Sebastian Vettel condemned to the back of the grid.
The British driver had been off the pace all weekend in practice but his Mercedes stormed back in qualifying to set a lap record of 1min 30.076sec, which helped him qualify a whisker ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.
"We had no idea what was going to happen today," said Hamilton, who had endured a torrid Friday when, despite an aerodynamic upgrade, he finished sixth in both practice sessions.
He and his mechanics opted to strip the car of the updates for the runs yesterday and it did the trick.
"I don't really know where the pole lap came from, I surprised myself. Somehow we managed to turn it around and it is a real surprise to be up here with these guys," said Hamilton, who secured his ninth pole of the season at the final running of the race. "I'm very grateful to the team. The car felt good."
I don't really know where the pole lap came from, I surprised myself. Somehow we managed to turn it around and it is a real surprise to be up here with these guys.
LEWIS HAMILTON, after securing pole.
Vettel's world championship hopes suffered a huge blow when he lost drive, leaving his Ferrari without a completed lap in first qualifying.
He will start at the back of the grid despite being consistently quickest during practice.
MALAYSIAN GP GRID
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
3 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull
5 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes
6 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India
7 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren
8 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault
9 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India
10 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren
11 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams
12 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault
16 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas 20 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
"It feels like I have no turbo," he said over team radio as he crawled back to the pits in his first qualifying stint.
Vettel's engine had already been changed to a new one before qualifying after he suffered a similar problem in final practice yesterday - only for the new unit to fail.
"Who knows what will happen tomorrow," said the German, who is 28 points behind Hamilton in the championship. "We have a very quick car and we saved some tyres.
"Anything can happen - you saw that in Singapore two weeks ago how everything can change."
At Marina Bay, Vettel had started from pole, only to crash on a rain-soaked first lap as Hamilton won from fifth on the grid to extend his championship lead.
Raikkonen was also a first-bend casualty in the Singapore carnage, along with Max Verstappen. The Finn, who recorded his maiden win at Malaysia in 2003, thought he might have pipped Hamilton to pole but was edged out by just four-hundredths of a second.
"When you get that close it's a disappointment," he said. "But I know I made the most out of it. You always find some things to improve but the car has behaved nicely all weekend.
"We will try to make sure we do the first two corners well and go from there."
The Red Bull of birthday boy Verstappen was third, almost half a second behind Raikkonen.
The Dutchman, who turned 20 yesterday, will be joined on the second row by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who was fourth fastest, just 0.054 of a second slower.
Today's Grand Prix will be the 19th and last at steamy Sepang. The race will disappear from the calendar after Malaysia's government decided that it would no longer cover the US$67 million (S$91.4 million) a year cost of staging the money-losing event.
"Even if we got the greatest of deals, do it for free for example, what's the product?" Sepang circuit chief executive Razlan Razali said. "I myself am not able to sit in front of the television and watch from lap one until whatever lap (for) two hours. It's hard to sell this kind of event and to get bums on the seat... and it's not worth the investment at the moment."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
F1 MALAYSIAN GP
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