German goes from pole to flag to beat Hamilton while Vitaly Petrov gets Russia’s first podium and Perez dream dashed.
|Last year’s champion Sebastian Vettel has made a storming start to the new season with Red Bull [GALLO/GETTY]
World champion Sebastian Vettel stormed to pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix as the German pipped McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton on his final flying lap around the Sepang circuit.
Hamilton had just set the quickest time before Vettel clocked one minute, 34.870 seconds in his Red Bull, just over a 10th of a second quicker than the McLaren.
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber claimed third spot on the grid, a further 0.205 behind Hamilton.
Formula One title holder Vettel won at Sepang last season and is aiming for a fourth consecutive race victory on Sunday after claiming the season opener in Melbourne two weeks ago and ending last season with back-to-back triumphs.
“Yes boys, that’s what I am talking about. Great job,” the 23-year-old told his team over the radio as he slowed down after picking up a 17th pole position of his career.
Red Bull had opted against using the KERS power boost system because of reliability issues in Australia, but the extra speed it provides on the long straights in Sepang was enough to convince the team to employ it in Malaysia.
“We had a challenging weekend right up through qualifying,” Vettel told reporters.
“I was happy with the car but we never really got into a sort of rhythm so yesterday wasn’t as smooth as we had hoped for.
“We knew we had it in the car and the main thing was to keep believing in it. The first and second qualifying were very good and it was very close in the end with the McLaren guys, but I am very happy and it’s a big compliment to the guys in the team.”
Vettel said KERS had made the difference.
“We were not proud of having not run it last time but we solved most of the problems and if we didn’t have it today, we would not be here – both of us.”
In a repeat of the top-five on the starting grid at Melbourne, McLaren’s Jenson Button will sit next to Webber on the second row in fourth place with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso behind them in fifth.
Renault’s Nick Heidfeld split the Ferraris, claiming sixth ahead of Felipe Massa, while Michael Schumacher endured another disappointing qualifying day and failed to make it into the last session in his Mercedes to start 11th on Sunday.
Hamilton had qualified more than .700 seconds slower than Vettel at Melbourne and by reducing that gap to just a 10th of a second, the Briton was content with his car’s performance.
“I don’t think we can be disappointed at all, we have made progress. Of course I would like to have been in P1 but Red Bull still have the edge, but we have closed the gap a little bit,” the 2008 world champion said.
“We always expected Red Bull to have a little in hand, especially going into the last run when they usually tend to pull something out of the bag.
“On my last lap, I lost a little bit of time on one corner so I cannot be disappointed, and I still have room to improve.”
Webber appeared slightly disappointed not to make it onto the front row of the grid but hoped to emulate Vettel’s performance in Malaysia a year ago when the German started third but went on to win.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I am starting on the clean side of the grid and it should be an interesting race,” he said.
“I think there will be a lot of pit stops.”
Further down the grid, HRT made good use of their new front wing and qualified for Sunday’s race after missing out in Melbourne when both cars fell foul of the ‘107 per cent rule’.