FORMULA 1

Hamilton blazes to pole and sets new lap record at Sepang

Lewis Hamilton left his rivals in his wake in Saturday’s qualifying to secure pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Hamilton blazes to pole and sets new lap record at Sepang
DIEGO AZUBEL EFE

Third pole at Sepang

Lewis Hamilton left his rivals in his wake in Saturday’s qualifying to secure pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The reigning world champion clocked the fastest lap ever recorded at the 5.543km circuit in 1 minute 32.850 seconds. His incredible feat eclipsed the pole position lap record for Sepang set by Juan Pablo Montoya in a Williams back in 2004. Yet Hamilton feels it was far from perfect despite being more than four-tenths faster than Mercedes rival and championship leader Nico Rosberg. “I really enjoyed the lap but it could have been faster,' he said afterwards.

MALAYSIA FORMULA ONE GRAND PRIX

Lead slashed

It marks a timely return to form for the three-time world champion after his Mercedes team mate won the last three races to open up an eight-point title race lead. Hamilton trailed Rosberg by 43 points after the first four races, only to turn that into a 19-point lead.

The hard-won advantage ebbed away as the German sped to victory in Belgium, Italy and then Singapore a fortnight ago. “This is definitely the best the car has been here", Hamilton told journalists. “A huge thank you to the team, who continue through the whole year to improve,' he added after his eighth pole position in 15 races so far this season. It's great work coming here after the last few weeks with Nico's wins”.

Rosberg's best lap was hampered at the final hairpin turn 15, which now has a tricky negative camber to negotiate under braking. “Lewis's lap was very quick so it was always going to be difficult”, he explained. “I would have been close, but unfortunately I made a mistake in the last corner”.

Third on the grid will be 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. Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo completes the second row of the grid for Sunday's race. Next comes the Ferrari of four-time Malaysia victor Sebastian Vettel and his team mate Kimi Raikkonen.

Jenson Button, in his 300th grand prix demonstrated the continual improvement of the McLaren by putting it in ninth place just ahead of Felipe Massa's Williams. Button's McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso will start from last place after being penalised 45 grid places for fitting an upgraded engine for practice and exceeding his permitted number of power units for the season.

The Spanish two-time world champion will revert to the same engine as Button for the race with Honda debuting the new power unit at their home Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka next weekend.