Sepang, 23 March – One can keep calm and not count one’s chickens, but one can also enjoy the moment and take satisfaction from a job well done. That was definitely the mood in the Scuderia Ferrari camp here in Sepang after Felipe Massa secured his first front row grid position since Bahrain in 2010 at the end of qualifying. The Brazilian was right to call it a team effort, for two reasons: firstly because the tricky conditions meant it involved keeping a cool head on the pit wall and in the garage and secondly, because Fernando Alonso is next on the time sheet, meaning he starts the Malaysian Grand Prix from third place right behind pole man Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull.
After the thrilling session, both Ferrari men suggested that the rain which affected the top ten shoot-out in Q3 might have helped their cause, but nevertheless, the F138 was good enough to be in the hunt throughout, with both Felipe and Fernando comfortably getting through the first two parts of qualifying, while using as few sets of tyre as possible. In the event of a dry race, then tyre degradation will again be the key factor and tyre management, as we saw seven days ago in Albert Park is the key that can unlock the door to the podium. Starting from third, Fernando has even suggested that one should not rule out being in the fight for outright victory, but as a three times winner here, the Spaniard knows as well as anyone how the weather can throw everything into confusion. However, from the second row of the grid, the Ferrari man can hope to have a reason to celebrate his 200th Grand Prix tomorrow.
When the rain came in time for the end of Q2 and stayed throughout Q3, it was the usual case of the times tumbling as a drying line appeared, even if everyone went for two sets of Intermediates in the final session. Fernando was quickest for a short time, but Sebastian Vettel asserted his and the Red Bull’s superiority over the single lap, to take his second pole in two races. Right at the end, Felipe’s well timed run was enough to put him in second place, while at the start of tomorrow’s 56 lap race, Fernando Alonso will have the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton outside him on the second row. Mark Webber for Red Bull and Nico Rosberg in the other Mercedes share the third row in fifth and sixth places respectively. If the weather is bad then starting from the front two rows also carries a visibility advantage and the current forecast is for thunderstorms at around 5 and 6 in the evening. When does the race start? 4pm!