Just like last year in Malaysia, the final qualifying session was held in wet conditions with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton clinching pole position, using the Cinturato Green intermediate tyre. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was runner-up, less than a tenth of a second off Hamilton’s time on the same tyre.
The Ferrari drivers and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas were the only competitors to get through Q1 using the hard tyre only, saving a set on new medium tyres for the race, with all the others going straight out on the medium. With rain falling just a couple of minutes into Q2, all the drivers prioritised setting a banker lap as soon as possible with the medium tyre. As the rain fell harder, none of the cars ventured out for the majority of the session.
After a half-hour delay, the final Q3 session got underway once the rain had stopped, with some drivers heading out on the Cinturato blue full wets and others on the intermediates. Once the track had dried further, the final 10 drivers were all using new intermediate tyres to try and extract the maximum grip from the wet surface. Hamilton’s first run on the intermediates was enough to secure the 40th pole position of his career.
During the hour-long free practice session this morning, held in the dry with track temperatures that peaked at 58 degrees centigrade, Nico Rosberg was fastest from his team mate Hamilton, with both running on the medium tyre.
A three-stop strategy is the most likely scenario for the race tomorrow, but this of course depends on the weather, with the Malaysian Grand Prix having been notably affected by its tropical climate in the past.
As usual, the top 10 drivers on the grid will start the race on the tyres they used at the end of Q2, which means medium compound for the entire top 10. Beyond the top 10, the drivers can choose which dry compound to start on (if it is a dry race).
The Pirelli strategy predictor:
There are two three-stop strategies that look very closely matched for the Malaysian Grand Prix, which takes place over 56 laps. The best three-stop strategy is: start on the medium, switch to the hard on lap 11, hard again on lap 26 and a final stint on the hard from lap 41. An alternative three-stop strategy is: start on medium, medium again on lap 11, medium again on lap 24, and hard from lap 37. If degradation is sufficiently contained, the fastest two-stop strategy would be start on medium, hard on lap 15 and hard again on lap 36.
The rain that fell during qualifying has washed the track clean of rubber laid down previously, which makes the degradation rates more complex to calculate. There is theoretically very little time difference between a two and three stop strategy, which could make it possible for some teams to keep a flexible approach and switch from one to the other.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “As is often the case, we had an eventful qualifying in Malaysia that was interrupted by rain. The whole weekend is of course a big challenge, with hot temperatures pushing the medium compound in particular, and some proper wet running for the first time all year. The intermediate tyre was used for a handful of laps during pre-season testing, but we’ve obviously seen nothing like this quantity of water so far this year, and it was the very first time that the 2015 full wet tyres were run. The intermediate tyre performed particularly well, with an exciting end to the session. This year’s race is set to be quite different to last year’s as the race start is one hour earlier, which should lead to higher track temperatures than we have seen before. Because of that, a three-stop strategy looks set to be the best option, with a wide variety of possibilities.”
Fastest compounds in FP3:
Top 10 tyre use: