After the disappointment of Melbourne a week ago where he faded away to an eventual sixth-place finish in the Australian Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg is bidding to make amends in Sepang by securing a rostrum finish in the Malaysian Grand Prix – at a circuit that has shone upon him in years gone-by.
After pacing two of the three practice sessions – meaning he has led the way in five out of the six Formula 1 practice sessions in 2009 to-date – Rosberg headed into qualifying in the Far Eastern country confident of a strong showing, and in posting the eighth-quickest time in both Q1 and Q2, he safely made it through to the all-important top ten shot-out.
Though he confessed that the car had not been as fast as expected for the first two-thirds of the session, a scrubbed set of softer option tyres enabled the inaugural GP2 Series Champion to record the sixth-best time in Q3, just over half a second shy of pole and a position that would become fourth once the respective penalties had been applied to Red Bull Racing star Sebastian Vettel and Brawn GP's Rubens Barrichello. From there, he is optimistic, he can go at least one spot better still come race day.
“I am very happy with fourth on the grid for tomorrow's race,” enthused the 23-year-old, who registered his maiden fastest lap in the top flight in only his second outing three years ago in Sepang. “Our general pace in the first two qualifying sessions wasn't quite where we wanted to be, but it gave us enough to work with. Then in Q3, with some fuel in the car, it felt really nice which allowed me to put in a very good lap that put me sixth – which after the penalties for the other cars is on the second row.
“From that start position as well as with a good car and a good strategy, we can be optimistic and say we have a good chance to aim for a podium. One consideration is of course the start, and I will have to check who will be using KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) around me.
“My preference for tomorrow would definitely be a dry race because it's always the safer way to go, but if it rains, even though it will mix things up, it will be no problem and we will make the best of either situation.”
As in Albert Park seven days ago, team-mate Kazuki Nakajima seemed to lack Rosberg's ultimate edge when it really mattered, as the Japanese ace produced the odd stand-out lap but lacked on the consistency front, placing 13th in Q1 and twelfth in Q2, thereby missing the Q3 cut by just under a tenth of a second.
Nonetheless, the 24-year-old was elevated to eleventh as a result of Vettel's demotion, and is similarly positive of a strong race as he takes advantage of the ability to decide just how much fuel he puts into his FW31 for the opening stint of the grand prix.
“The car was good,” he underlined. “I had a good feeling in the cockpit and everything went okay today, but I just needed to find another tenth to get into Q3. Despite this, I now have the freedom to fuel the car for the optimum strategy, and with this benefit and a good long run pace, a good finish is possible if I keep my head down during the race.”