Lewis Hamilton drives during the qualifying session of the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang on October 1. Photograph:( AFP )
Lewis Hamilton blitzed his rivals in qualifying Saturday to secure pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The reigning world champion clocked the fastest lap ever recorded at the 5.543km circuit in 1min 32.850sec. His amazing drive eclipsed the pole position lap record for Sepang set by Juan Pablo Montoya in a Williams way back in 2004.
But Hamilton still reckoned it wasn't perfect despite being more than four-tenths faster than Mercedes rival and championship leader Nico Rosberg.
"I really enjoyed the lap. It could have been faster," said Hamilton, who has consistently outpaced his rival Rosberg all week.
It marks a welcome and timely return to form for the three-time world champion after his Mercedes teammate won the last three races to open up an eight-point title race lead.
Hamilton trailed Rosberg by 43 points after the first four races of a rollercoaster season, only to turn that into a 19-point lead. The hard-won advantage evaporated as the German sped to victory in Belgium, Italy and then Singapore two weeks ago.
"This is definitely the best the car has been here," Hamilton told reporters. "A huge thank you to the team, who continue through the whole year to improve," he added after his eighth pole position in 15 races so far this season. "It's great work coming here after the last few weeks with Nico's wins," he said.
Rosberg's best lap was hampered by a wobble at the remodelled final hairpin turn 15, which now has a tricky negative camber to negotiate under braking. "Lewis's lap was very quick so it was always going to be difficult," said Rosberg.
"I would have been close, but unfortunately I made a mistake in the last corner."
Third on the grid will be birthday boy Max Verstappen, who celebrated turning 19 on Friday before clocking 1:33.420 a day later, less than 0.2sec off the pace of Rosberg.
"The whole weekend has been quite positive for me, we made some changes after Singapore that worked," said the teenager. Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo completes the second row of the grid for Sunday's race.
Next comes the Ferrari of four-time Malaysia victor Sebastian Vettel and his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Just two-tenths of a second separated the best lap times of the Red Bulls and Ferraris making for an intriguing battle in Sunday's race on a high-speed circuit that provides ample opportunities for overtaking.
The Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg completed the fourth row locked out by teammates by qualifying seventh and eighth. Jenson Button, in his 300th grand prix demonstrated the continual improvement of the McLaren by putting it in ninth place just ahead of Felipe Massa's Williams.
Button's McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso will start from last place after being penalised 45 grid places for fitting an upgraded engine for practice and exceeding his permitted number of power units for the season.
The Spanish two-time world champion will revert to the same engine as Button for the race with Honda debuting the new power unit at their home Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka next weekend.