Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton laid down the gauntlet to team-mate Nico Rosberg on Saturday, as he qualified in pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Hamilton was in a class of his own on the day and was comfortably clear of his rival, who will start in second place; the reigning world champion's final time of one minute, 32.850 seconds was 0.414 seconds quicker than what the German could muster.
Rosberg arrived in Malaysia on the back of three successive wins and with an eight-point advantage in the Formula One world championship. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start behind him on the grid after snaffling third position.
Earlier in the day, Hamilton topped final practice, with Verstappen splitting him and Rosberg.
Here's a look back at another fascinating qualifying session and how things will shape up in Malaysia for what's set to be one of the year's defining races.
Here are the results from qualifying, with Hamilton taking what is a crucial pole position in Sepang:
From the off, Hamilton looked to have a big advantage over his team-mate, as he was easily quickest in Q1. The early indications were that it would be Ferrari, not Red Bull, in closest proximity to the Silver Arrows, too.
The end of the first segment of qualifying yielded no great surprises, with both Manors and both Saubers eliminated, along with Renault’s Jolyon Palmer.
Ahead of second qualifying, the Williams team posted this bulletin, noting that the drivers had to deal with different conditions to what they’d been used to over the course of the practice runs:
In Q2, Hamilton again proved to be in a class of his own. After Rosberg went to the top of the standings, the Briton produced a stormer of a lap to go six-tenths quicker than his team-mate. The Red Bull duo were a lot sharper second time around, with Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo occupying third and fourth, respectively.
Valtteri Bottas was the biggest name to miss out on the top 10 shootout, with McLaren’s Jenson Button and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg jumping him with excellent final laps.
Meanwhile, sports statistician Sean Kelly noted just how quickly Hamilton was making it around this testing circuit:
Indeed, the three-time world champion was imperious in Q3, setting a stunning early mark, while an error from Rosberg left him down in fifth place after the first runs.
The German improved on his second effort and was tantalisingly close to Hamilton's time for much of the lap. But a run wide into the final corner cost him any chance of taking pole. Rosberg could at least be consoled by jumping up into second spot.
In the battle for the minor places, it was Red Bull who got the better of Ferrari, with Verstappen and Ricciardo locking out the second row.
Meanwhile, Button also enjoyed a prosperous day in a landmark race:
Hamilton needed to do something to halt the momentum of Rosberg after his remarkable recent run, and all the signs are that the world champion is the quicker man at Sepang.
Provided he starts well and keeps his composure, two areas that have blighted Hamilton in recent races, he should be right back in the hunt for the world title come Sunday evening.
Here’s a look at the standings from the final practice session on Saturday, with Hamilton grabbing an early boost ahead of qualifying:
There were a few thrills and spills in Malaysia early on in FP3, with the drivers struggling to find grip on the resurfaced Sepang circuit.
From the off there were issues in some of the testing parts of the track, as Romain Grosjean and Sebastian Vettel made rudimentary mistakes. As we can see here courtesy of the Formula One Twitter feed, there was one hairy moment for Rosberg, too, as he came face-to-face with Esteban Gutierrez:
When the track was clear the German was able to put in the quickest lap of the session on the medium tyres, although he wasn’t up there for long.
Hamilton offered an insight into his pace when posting the fastest first and second sectors of anyone, although he backed out of the lap. The Briton eventually moved ahead of his team-mate, though, with the Red Bull duo of Ricciardo and Verstappen posting similar times, albeit on the quicker soft compound.
As F1 journalist James Allen noted, the pace of the Red Bulls doesn't look be sufficient to push the Silver Arrows in qualifying:
That certainly looked the case when Rosberg donned the soft tyres. Although he only hooked things up in the final sector, the German coasted to the top of the standings. Hamilton continued to show his class around this circuit, posting a lap of 1:34.434 seconds to move six-tenths ahead of his team-mate.
Verstappen was keen to get in the mix, though, and the young Dutchman produced a brilliant lap to split to Silver Arrows late on. While it's unlikely he'll challenge Rosberg once the German puts together a cleaner lap, it was enough to suggest Red Bull will be a major threat to Ferrari in qualifying.