Sepang Qualy: Lewis does it again
Hamilton and Button share front row, as Schumacher takes third
Last Updated: 24/03/12 12:27pm
Lewis Hamilton produced his second storming qualifying performance inside eight days to secure pole position in Malaysia as McLaren again locked out the front row.
Underlining McLaren's status as the team to beat in the early stages of 2012, Hamilton sailed through the first two knockout stages before unleashing a spectacular 1:36.219 lap on his first Q3 run which ultimately proved out of reach for all his nearest rivals.
Michael Schumacher initially got closest as Mercedes opted to complete just one flying run with their cars but the seven-time World Champion was denied his first front-row start for nearly six years as Jenson Button pipped him by a mere 0.023 to replicate the front of the grid from Melbourne.
Third place though still represents the best qualifying result since Schumacher's return to the sport in 2010, and means he outqualified Nico Rosberg for the second successive weekend after the younger German again blew his qualifying lap with a lock-up, leaving him further down the order.
F1's previous qualifying kings Red Bull once more didn't feature in the battle for pole but the World Champions opted to split their tyre strategies - Mark Webber using the faster medium tyre to set the fourth-best time while World Champion Sebastian Vettel scarified some speed and went for the slower hards.
The German was the only top 10 runner to qualify on the 'prime' compound and while the resulting lap time was only good enough for sixth place again, it throws an interesting curve ball in the battle for victory on Sunday.
Vettel will, however, start fifth as Kimi Raikkonen, who ran impressively for Lotus throughout the hour and split the Red Bulls on the timesheets, will drop to a less spectacular 10th on the grid after a five-place penalty for a gearbox change.
Raikkonen's team-mate Romain Grosjean therefore will line up sixth, ahead of Rosberg, with Fernando Alonso only managing ninth for struggling Ferrari ahead of Sauber's Sergio Perez.
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Pastor Maldonado was threatening to make Q3 for the second successive weekend going into the final seconds of the second phase but was eventually shuffled down by the two Mercedes' to 11th, although this was still something of an achievement given he ran wide off the road at turn 10 earlier.
The Williams will be joined on the sixth row by the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa, the Brazilian managing to improve by four places his grid slot from Melbourne but still not delivering the kind of breakthrough Ferrari may have hoped for having pressed a new chassis into service for him this weekend.
Bruno Senna will line up directly behind his team-mate in 13th, as Williams outpaced midfield rivals Force India and Toro Rosso who both failed to deliver in Q2.
Paul di Resta recovered from a scruffy ride through Friday practice to make it one-all in what is set to be an intriguing season-long qualifying duel with Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg - although 14th and 16th on the grid hardly reflect the team's ambitions.
Likewise at Toro Rosso, who lost Jean-Eric Vergne in Q1 after the French rookie flat-spotted a tyre in a lock-up at the first corner and then saw Daniel Ricciardo set only the 15th fastest time.
Caterham, Marussia and HRT again took up their usual positions at the foot of the order, although for the latter this was hailed as a 2012 breakthrough as both Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan set times within 107% of the fastest Q1 effort to ensure they will line up on Sunday's grid.