Vettel pips Hamilton to Sepang pole

Sebastian Vettel denied Lewis Hamilton pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix in an extremely close battle at Sepang

Vettel pips Hamilton to Sepang pole

Hamilton had held provisional pole early in Q3 with a 1m35.000s lap, which put the McLaren a tenth clear of Vettel's Red Bull at that stage.

The Briton then improved to 1m34.974s on his final run, but Vettel managed to dig deeper still, producing a 1m34.870s to maintain his 100 per cent pole rate for 2011 - although the margin of 0.104 seconds was far tighter than in Australia.

Mark Webber was 0.309s off team-mate Vettel's pace in third, and 0.021s ahead of Jenson Button in the second McLaren.

That quartet had the pole fight to themselves, with the rest of the frontrunners a long way off the pace and without enough soft tyres to do more than one Q3 run.

Fernando Alonso led this 'best of the rest' group in fifth for Ferrari, with his team-mate Felipe Massa seventh.

Both Renaults made it to Q3 despite the team's tough start to the weekend. Nick Heidfeld put his Melbourne misery behind him with sixth on the grid, while Vitaly Petrov took eighth.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg pipped Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber for ninth.

For the second race in a row, Michael Schumacher missed out on a Q3 spot and will start 11th - this time after his Mercedes team-mate Rosberg's late improvement knocked him out.

Neither Toro Rosso reached Q3 at Sepang, Sebastien Buemi recovering from losing a large chunk of sidepod bodywork (the retrieval of which required a brief red flag) in Q1 to qualify just ahead of team-mate Jaime Alguersuari in 12th.

The Force Indias were 14th and 17th, with Paul di Resta outqualifying Adrian Sutil again. They sandwich Rubens Barrichello, on a disappointing day for Williams, and Melbourne hero Sergio Perez, whose Sauber was only 16th today.

Though neither of its cars got out of Q1, there was great encouragement for Lotus as Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli got within half a second of Williams - Pastor Maldonado joining them in an early exit - and beat the Virgins by two seconds. And Hispania had cause for celebration too: Tonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan made the 107 per cent qualifying cut very comfortably in Q1.

Pos Driver Team Time Gap  1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m34.870s 2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m34.974s + 0.104 3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m35.179s + 0.309 4. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.200s + 0.330 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m35.802s + 0.932 6. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m36.124s + 1.254 7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.251s + 1.381 8. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m36.324s + 1.454 9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m36.809s + 1.939 10. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.820s + 1.950 Q3 cut-off time: 1m36.811s Gap ** 11. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m37.035s + 1.466 12. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.160s + 1.591 13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.347s + 1.778 14. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m37.370s + 1.801 15. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m37.496s + 1.927 16. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.528s + 1.959 17. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m37.593s + 2.024 Q3 cut-off time: 1m38.163s Gap * 18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m38.276s + 1.532 19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m38.645s + 1.901 20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m38.791s + 2.047 21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m40.648s + 3.904 22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m41.001s + 4.257 23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m41.549s + 4.805 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m42.574s + 5.830 107% time: 1m43.516s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2
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Hamilton tops final Sepang practice
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