Lewis Hamilton has claimed his 70th career pole position around the Sepang International Circuit. The Brit's fastest time was a 1:30.076. Sebastian Vettel, whose championship hopes took a hit in Singapore, suffered another blow as an engine problem halted his running in Q1.
Vettel will start the race from the back of the grid and will be hoping for a hectic race in order to make his way to the front of the grid in tomorrow's Grand Prix. Vettel's teammate Kimi Raikkonen will start the race from second position and will be hoping he can give Hamilton a hard time during Sunday's race.
Max Verstappen ended the day in third place, once again ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Both men will share the second row of the grid, with Verstappen wrapping up the teammate qualifying battle for the 2017 season.
Valtteri Bottas once again failed to match the pace of his teammate, and will start from fifth on the grid. The Finn's fastest time was almost seven-tenths of a second down on Hamilton. Joining Bottas on the third row will be Esteban Ocon in the Force India.
Stoffel Vandoorne qualified in a career-best seventh place, while teammate Fernando Alonso could only manage tenth. Alonso is running with upgraded aerodynamics this weekend in Malaysia, while Vandoorne is set to receive the upgrades in Japan next weekend.
Nico Hulkenberg kept his consistent display of qualifying performances up, and will start tomorrow's race from eighth on the grid. He heads former teammate Sergio Perez who will line-up in ninth position.
As the track went green, the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein was the first driver to take to the track, followed by Romain Grosjean. Hamilton was the first of the front-runners to come out, equipped with the soft compound.
Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas was next out, also wearing the soft compound. Both Ferrari's emerged with the same, yellow-walled soft tyre, but Ricciardo decided to use the softest of the compounds available, the super softs.
Hamilton set a lap time of 1:21.3, which was quickly beaten by Raikkonen by one-tenth of a second. Bottas' time put him just behind his teammate and into third place. Ferrari then grew concerned when Vettel reported that he had lost drive, and for the second time today, he limped back to the pits.
The issue was deemed to be terminal and Vettel's day was over, meaning it was confirmed he would start at the back of the field. A number of drivers improved on their final laps, with Palmer, Hulkenberg, Massa and Gasly all making leaps to ensure they got into the second stage of qualifying.
Drivers out in Q1: Grosjean, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Ericsson & Vettel
Going into Q2, the battle looked set to be as tight as ever between the teams around the edge of the top 10, who were looking extremely close, with the gap between the cars fighting for the top ten only around three-tenths in Q1.
In the first runs it was the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen to go quickest of all the drivers, further compounding the disappointment of Vettel not being able to run at all in qualifying. Verstappen impressed, showing the good pace that the team has shown throughout practice to put the car second after the initial runs, with the Mercedes cars just behind him.
The teams on the bubble looked to be the Toro Rosso drivers who were bringing up the rear after the first runs. The Williams of Lance Stroll also looking to be in danger a number of positions away from his teammate after the first runs.
With the first two staying in the pits after their runs, it left the door open for Valtteri Bottas to claim the fastest lap for the session, with Hamilton and Ricciardo not improving their position. Perez and Vandoorne improving enough on their second runs to get out of Q2 after previously being in the drop zone after their first runs, and subsequently kicking out Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Massa.
Drivers out in Q2: Massa, Palmer, Stroll, Sainz & Gasly
Nobody rushed to the end of the pitlane when the track went green for the final time in qualifying. Eventually, the two Mercedes' and Raikkonen headed out onto the track to contest in a battle for pole position and the point of most advantage for the Grand Prix.
Bottas crossed the line first to set a 1:30.9, which was then bet by Hamilton, who set a spectacular time of 1:30.0. His fellow competitors couldn't match the pace, with Red Bull slipping away in the final laps due to insufficient engine power.
Nobody could challenge Hamilton's time on the second runs, which left the Brit to take yet another pole position. Mercedes will be relieved after the disastrous Friday it suffered, and have an opportunity to further extend its gap to Ferrari tomorrow.
Fergal Walsh & Sam Gale
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Circuit de Catalunya - Winter testing
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