MCLAREN’S Fernando Alonso believes that significant progress has been made since the opening round in Australia, despite the team suffering another tumultuous qualifying session this weekend in Malaysia.
Alonso missed the opening round of the season in Melbourne after suffering concussion in pre-season testing in Barcelona, with reserve driver Kevin Magnussen taking over the Spaniard’s seat.
But for the second weekend in a row, both McLarens will line up in 17th (Button) and 18th (Alonso) on the grid. They avoided the back row due to Manor’s Roberto Mehri and Will Stevens not finishing within the 107% qualifying time.
Qualifying was temprarily halted before the hird and final qualifying due to a torential downpour, synonymous of the Malaysian monsoon season. McLaren did not have to worry about this too much as neither made it through the second segment. But despite a difficult start to 2015, double world champion Alonso believes that the team is moving in the right direction finally.
“I think that our performance this weekend is better than I anticipated before arriving in Malaysia”, said Alonso.
“In fact, I would say that the progress we have made since Australia has been fantastic. We are closer to the cars ahead.” – Alonso
“The stages that the car has been through show that progress has been made, so I’m optimistic and I think that we won’t be stuck in Q1 for too much longer”, prophisied Alonso.
Optimism is one thing but McLaren is far from where it wants to be, and engine suppliers Honda still face stiff questions over their lack of perfomance, despite having over a year of preparation.
Team boss Eric Boullier is keen to avoid getting down about a dismal opening to the season, instead focusing on the potential in the car.
“First of all, it’s good to see Fernando back in the cockpit, and even better to note that he approached and conducted his first McLaren-Honda qualifying session with such infectious enthusiasm”, said Boullier
“Jenson and he recorded almost identical lap-times – a testimony to the fact that they both managed to get the absolute maximum from what MP4-30 currently has to offer.
“Although we’re no farther up the grid here than we were in Melbourne, it’s clear that MP4-30 has a significant amount more to offer on the swooping curves of Sepang than it did on the point-and-squirt switchback that is Albert Park. And that performance delta is a result of the fact that it’s already a better car, not a result of the fact that we’re racing on a very different kind of circuit this weekend”, Boullier concluded.
In stark contrast to McLaren’s woes at the back, up at the front was a different story for one. Refreshingly, Mercedes failed to lock out the front row of the grid for the first time in 10 events. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel continued his strong start for the Prancing Horse with an impressive laptime to grab second, just 0.074s behind pole sitter Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel spoke of his satisfaction to finally be mixing it with the Mercedes duo, especially in challenging conditions.
“When it starts raining here, which is quite often, there can be a certain disorder. I think this qualfying session was very interesting”, said Vettel
“My car was good in all conditions, dry and wet at the end so I’m reasonably happy. Our long runs seemed good in free practice so it’s a good sign.” – Vettel
“It’s very close. I hope we can make life difficult for Mercedes. The last few months has been too comfortable for them so we will see what we can do. For the moment we need to focus on ourselves because with the rain here, it is always tricky”, said Vettel.
For Hamilton it was another show of utter dominance as the reigning champion secured his 40th career pole position. Despite receiving a scare in Q2, when the rain suddenly arrived, leaving him sweating in 8th, Hamilton finished comfortably ahead of Vettel, and most importantly team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton did however revel in the competitiveness of the Ferraris this weekend and predicts a challenging and interesting race on Sunday.
“When you go out on the wet track for the first time here, it’s really a jump into the unknown and everything depends on how you adapt to the conditions”, said Hamilton.
“It’s always interesting in Malaysia. Last year we saw three stops. It’s difficult with the tyres here, due to the high temperatures, particularly when it is dry. It’l be a real challenge for everyone, for the car but also with the tyres and strategy.”