Sebastian Vettel's pole position may not have come as a surprise to Niki Lauda, but he was impressed by how close behind McLaren were.
"That was the result I was expecting, but I didn't think the gap would be quite so small, " conceded the Austrian after Vettel secured pole from Hamilton by a mere tenth of a second.
"One tenth – that's enough. Pole is the desired outcome, but the extent to which McLaren have caught up has surprised everyone. "
Even Red Bull Racing have been scratching their heads at the comeback.
"They were telling me that they hadn't been able to get the balance right all weekend," added Lauda. "But they seem to have cracked that in time for qualifying. By putting in a lot of hard work, they got there in the end."
The three-time world champion is convinced that the massive Red Bull lead of one second has now been eroded.
"Vettel only just managed to clinch pole position this time," says Lauda,"but all the signs are that the race is Red Bull's for the taking, because their car eats up the tyres less fast."
However, he wouldn't be pushed into picking a winner, saying: "The start will be crucial. I think Hamilton is in with a good chance, because he always gets off the line well and drives an aggressive race. In the final analysis, it's the intelligence of the drivers that will decide the outcome. The ones who treat their tyres with care will need fewer stops and will have the advantage."
"The tyres are subject to greater stress here. We'll see who is leading at the end. Sepang will definitely be a thriller."