Sebastian Vettel delighted to snatch pole from Lewis Hamilton

The German claims pole in Malaysia by a mere 0.104secs, but Red Bull Racing are surprised at how fats McLaren-Mercedes have caught up.

Sebastian Vettel has made it two poles out of two this season, but in Kuala Lumpur, the gap between him and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton has shrunk.
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KUALA LUMPUR // "That's what I'm talking about," yelled Sebastian Vettel down his team radio after claiming pole position on the final lap of a thrilling qualifying session ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing's reigning world champion usurped Lewis Hamilton of McLaren-Mercedes from the top of the time sheets by a mere 0.104 seconds. Vettel's teammate Mark Webber will start one row back alongside fourth-placed Jenson Button in the second race of the Formula One season.

Much had been written regarding potential reliability issues for Red Bull after Christian Horner, the team principal, revealed Vettel had triumphed in the season-opening race in Australia without risking the much-vaunted but problematic Kinetic Energy Recovery System (Kers).

But there was no sign of that in Friday's practice when Webber topped both sessions and there was little sign of it today as Vettel secured the constructors' champions their 17th pole position from the previous 21 grands prix.

"We can be very happy, but it will be a difficult race," said Vettel, who has converted his past four poles into three wins and also won here last season.

McLaren have improved remarkably in recent weeks and Hamilton led qualifying for long spells. But Vettel found the pace precisely when he needed it most to leave even Horner and Adrian Newey, Red Bull's chief engineer, smiling is disbelief. The 23-year-old German is showing every sign that he has the capability and the car to become the first driver to defend the world championship since Fernando Alonso did so with Renault in 2006.

"In all honesty, no I didn't expect it," Horner said of wrestling pole from Hamilton. "To get first and third after a fascinating qualifying session, which was really tough with the McLarens, is a great start to the weekend. On the final run and under huge pressure, Sebastian delivered just enough to get pole and Mark also improved on his time to set us up well."

Horner revealed Webber had also suffered "a little Kers alarm", but added he was confident it was nothing significant. The Australian driver is keen to improve on a disappointing home grand prix in Melbourne last month, where he finished fifth, and believes the installation of Kers can help.

"Most people we can pass without Kers within reason obviously," Webber said. "Kers is something that you always push to have and the guys have done a monumental job getting everything here. It's a long season, so we need to try and introduce it as soon as possible. That's why it is on the car and we will go into the race and learn even more from there."

Pole position has only been converted into a race win once in the past four years at Sepang and when Webber started from the front here last season, his teammate passed him at the first turn. Vettel said yesterday he hoped Webber "doesn't do the same thing to me as I did to him last year".

"It is a long race and when we wake up, [qualifying] is history and it is a new day, a new chance," Vettel said. "If you start from pole, you cannot really improve, but you need to get the job done. I am surprised it has not rained yet, but we know here that it is very likely to rain, so things can happen and you can't take anything for granted."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Qualifying for Malaysian Grand Prix

1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1min 34.870 secs
2 Lewis Hamilton  McLaren 1:34.974
3 Mark Webber  Red Bull 1:35.179
4 Jenson Button  McLaren 1:35.200
5 Fernando Alonso  Ferrari 1:35.802
6 Nick Heidfeld  Renault 1:36.124
7 Felipe Massa  Ferrari 1:36.251
8 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:36.324
9 Nico Rosberg  Mercedes 1:36.809
10 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:36.820
- - - - - - - - - -
11 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:37.035
12 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1:37.160
13 Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1:37.347
14 Paul Di Resta Force India 1:37.370
15 Rubens Barrichello Williams 1:37.496
16 Sergio Perez  Sauber 1:37.528
17 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:37.593
- - - - - - - - - -
18 Pastor Maldonado  Williams 1:38.276
19 Heikki Kovalainen  Lotus 1:38.645
20 Jarno Trulli  Lotus 1:38.791
21 Timo Glock  Virgin 1:40.648
22 Jerome d'Ambrosio  Virgin 1:41.001
23 Vitantonio Liuzzi  HRT 1:41.549
24 Narain Karthikeyan  HRT 1:42.574
- - - - - - - - - -
1-10: third and final qualifying session
11-17: second qualifying session
18-24: first qualifying session