Team-by-team summary: Saturday, Malaysia

Sat, 22 March 2008, 02:32

After the Melbourne debacle, the Italian team is the class of Sepang, with Felipe Massa on pole by half a second, and both F2008s well clear of the McLaren pace in Q3. “I was not able to get the tyres to work as well as possible,” said Kimi Raikkonen, who is second.

Due to the demotion of the faster McLarens, Jarno Trulli will start the race from third place. Timo Glock is off the Italian’s pace but still made the Q3 cut.

Nick Heidfeld, who topped the morning time sheets, angrily complained to the stewards after qualifying that both McLarens impeded his last flying lap as they cruised at slow speed to save fuel back to parc ferme. Several hours later, the stewards agreed and docked them five grid places each, thus promoting Heidfeld from seventh to fifth. Robert Kubica’s best lap was a few hundredths faster.

The stewards let the team qualify following David Coulthard’s suspension-shattering incident on Friday, and Mark Webber duly drove the RB4 to a credible eighth quickest (sixth on grid). Coulthard did not make it through to Q3.

Fernando Alonso, who like Heidfeld complained about the impeding McLaren drivers, could not keep up with the proper pace once he made the Q3 cut and started carrying a bigger fuel load than many of his rivals. Nelson Piquet, thirteenth, has had a better weekend than Melbourne, observing that he is “not too far away from my teammate” in Malaysia.

The MP4-23 is clearly the second quickest car in Malaysia, but the gap to Ferrari seemed significant after qualifying. Lewis Hamilton has struggled to keep up with his teammate Heikki Kovalainen all weekend and qualified fourth, but both racers fall five places down the grid after stewards found them unintentionally blocking the flying Heidfeld and Alonso on the racing line as they conserved fuel at the end.

After such an uncompetitive winter, Jenson Button was delighted to so narrowly miss the Q3 cut, and Rubens Barrichello was a few tenths behind. The Brazilian had a broken sixth gear repaired in the morning, but the FIA rules allowed its repair without falling foul of the four-race gearbox rule.

After a good outing in Australia, Sebastian Vettel never looked like making the Q3 cut, but he had a better day than his teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who dropped out in Q1 with a brake failure. Earlier in the day his Ferrari V8 failed, so the Frenchman has now used up his ‘penalty-free’ engine change for the season.

Nico Rosberg sprayed champagne on the podium one week ago, but he came crashing to earth in Malaysia, qualifying an abysmal sixteenth. “Can’t believe it,” said the German, who lost time in the morning with an hydraulic leak. “Our car doesn’t seem to like the new asphalt they laid on this track at all.” Kazuki Nakajima dropped out in Q1, and moves right to the back of the grid because of his Melbourne penalty for crashing into Robert Kubica.

The Silverstone based team again failed to reach its target of reaching Q2, but Giancarlo Fisichella did come tantalisingly close – half a tenth – to beating Barrichello’s time. Also to the Roman’s credit, he has so far in 2008 proved clearly quicker than his highly rated teammate, Adrian Sutil.

It is situation-normal for F1’s currently slowest team, but Takuma Sato did well to at least pip Sutil.

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