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The Star Online: Sports

Vettel takes pole for Malaysian F1 GP (Update)

Posted: 09 Apr 2011 03:25 AM PDT

SEPANG: Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing has claimed pole position for the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The defending world champion qualified a tenth of a second ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton at the Sepang International Circuit on Saturday, with Red Bull's Mark Webber in third and McLaren's Jenson Button fourth.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso will start the race from fifth, while Renault's Nick Heidfeld qualified sixth.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa, Renault's Vitaly Petrov, Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi completed the top 10.

For the second race running, Michael Schumacher did not make it into the final session of qualifying - running more than six tenths of a second behind teammate Rosberg - and will start 11th.

Including last season, Red Bull has claimed pole position in 17 of the past 21 grands prix.

Vettel's 17th career pole tied him on the all-time list with three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart.

However, he cut it very fine on Saturday, crossing the start-finish line only four seconds before the chequered flag fell to prevent anyone starting another lap.

"So very close in the end with the McLaren guys, so I'm very happy," Vettel said.

He was quick to thank his mechanics, who managed to integrate the KERS power-boost system into the chassis, having been forced to forego the device in qualifying and race in Melbourne due to technical difficulties.

"That made the difference today," Vettel said. "Without that, we would have been behind the McLaren guys."

Hamilton was disappointed not to take pole, but still encouraged that McLaren got much closer to the Red Bulls here than in Melbourne, where Vettel was eight tenths of a second clear of the field in qualifying.

"I don't think we can be disappointed," Hamilton said. "We did a great job to even be up there with the Red Bulls.

"These guys (Red Bull) have a bit of an edge, but clearly we have closed the gap a little bit here."

Ferrari, the third of the purported world champion contenders, was again off the pace, with Alonso almost a second behind Vettel's pole time.

"We were not quick enough in Australia, not quick enough here," Alonso said. "China is in five days' time, so it's quite a difficult weekend as well."

Interestingly, Alonso claimed the Red Bull cars were still not using KERS, despite both its drivers and team principal Christian Horner saying they were.

All 24 cars will start the race, as all drivers were within seven percent of the fastest car in the first sector of qualifying.

The Hispania cars missed out in Australia due to that seven percent rule, but were comfortably inside the threshold on Saturday in an encouraging showing.

The first session of qualifying was red-flagged when the entire left engine cover of Sebastian Buemi's car flew off.

Rain threatened but held off, meaning teams will go into Sunday's race without any experience of the new Pirelli wet weather tyres, and with showers forecast.

Vettel was keenly aware of the threat of bad weather during the race.

"We know here it's very likely to rain, and a lot of things can happen, so you can't take anything for granted," Vettel said.

The fight between Red Bull and McLaren has been more keenly contested in Malaysia than in the season opener, and Vettel said the team was still finding ways to improve.

"All weekend I was happy with the car, but never got to the point where I could prove it to myself, and never found the true rhythm," Vettel said.

"I knew it was somewhere in there, and qualifying was the first time we had trouble-free runs, so I am very happy with the result."

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Hamilton fastest in final practice for Malaysian GP

Posted: 08 Apr 2011 11:13 PM PDT

SEPANG: McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in Saturday's pre-qualifying practice for the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix.

Hamilton edged Red bull driver Mark Webber by almost three-tenths of a second around the Sepang circuit.

McLaren's Jenson Button was third fastest, ahead of Renault's Nick Heidfeld, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher was ninth fastest in his Mercedes.

It was a dry practice session, but the threat of rain will increase before the start of qualifying later at 4pm.

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