Hamilton leads McLaren sweep
2008 champion takes second consecutive pole position as Schumacher seals third place on the grid. Follow the Indian | Debriefindia Updated: Mar 25, 2012 02:14 IST
Britain's Lewis Hamilton made it two straight pole positions to start the season as he dominated qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Hamilton, who started from pole last week in Australia but finished the race third, timed 1min 36.219sec around the Sepang circuit ahead of team-mate Jenson Button, with seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher third.
Red Bull's Mark Webber was fourth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and defending world champion Sebastian Vettel in sixth. However, Raikkonen will drop five places for an unscheduled gearbox change.
McLaren have not been headed in qualifying this year after also claiming the top two places last week. Button, the 2009 world champion, won from second on the grid in Melbourne to lead the early championship ahead of Vettel.
In hot but dry conditions, Red Bull's Webber nabbed the top time in the dying seconds of the first 20-minute qualifying segment, in which Ferrari's Massa flirted with elimination before recovering to scrape through in 15th.And in Q2, seven-time world champion Schumacher left it until his very last lap before climbing from 11th to fourth. Raikkonen was quickest but there was no top-10 shoot-out for the embattled Massa, who wound up 12th.
Close call in final qualifying segment
In a thrilling Q3, Raikkonen, Button and Hamilton outpaced each other in quick succession at the top of the standings and with two minutes remaining, Schumacher's challenge agonisingly short of the front row.
This year's Formula One series features an unprecedented six former world champions, with Vettel, 24, bidding to become only the third driver in the sport's history to win three titles in a row.
Five of the six world title-winners have been victorious at Sepang, a fast circuit known for its strength-sapping humidity and frequent heavy rain. Vettel won the 2010 and 2011 races.
Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen will start at the back of the grid after being slapped with a five-place penalty when he was found guilty of overtaking other cars under the safety car period at last week's Australian Grand Prix.