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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