Vettel outguns Hamilton for Malaysian GP pole
Hamilton held provisional pole early in Q3 with a 1m35.000s lap, and he then improved to 1m34.974s on his final run, but Vettel, like he has done many times before, finds that little extra on his last run and got his time down to 1m34.870s to beat Hamilton by the slim 0.104 seconds.
Mark Webber was 0.309s off teammate Vettel's time in third, and 0.021s ahead of Jenson Button in the second McLaren, making it an all Red Bull/McLaren first two rows.
The team did not use the energy-recovery technology to dominate in Melbourne two weeks ago, but championship leader Vettel said he needed it to stave off a resurgent McLaren in Malaysia by just one tenth.
So significant has been McLaren's progress in recent weeks that Hamilton, happy to be second best in Australia, was visibly disappointed with his P2 on the Sepang grid.
"These guys (Red Bull) still have a slight edge but it seems we've closed the gap a bit," said the Briton.
Also visibly disappointed was Vettel's teammate Mark Webber, but he said Saturday was a "better performance from me" after a poor showing two weeks ago.
"Mark (P3) had a little KERS alarm that we're looking at," Red Bull boss Christian Horner told the BBC, "but I don't think it was anything significant."
Vettel, meanwhile, said he thinks there will be lots of pitstops in Sunday's race given the high degradation of the Pirelli tires.
"I hope the spectators don't lose count," he smiled.
"It was not easy," he told the BBC.
"We found we were not competitive enough in morning practice, so it was again a conservative approach, and only do one run in Q3
"You have to risk but at the same time not too much. It is a stressful situation.
"We did our job today, knowing we must improve. A second gap between pole position and us is too much."
"In the race I think it is much closer. I'm not so sure which conditions are better for us.
"The start will be interesting. Maybe we can overtake the Red Bulls here - we believe they do not have the KERS here.
"If it's raining here, everything is a gamble."
The two Renaults again were fast with Nick Heidfeld 6th and his Russian teammate Vitaly Petrov 8th ahead of the Ferrari of Felipe Massa in 7th.
Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher said they both encountered problems with Mercedes' DRS wing during Malaysian Grand Prix, as they struggled to ninth and 11th on the grid.
"We had some issues with the rear wing activation today and unfortunately that's what compromised my last run in Q2," said Schumacher. "The car became difficult to drive, which is a real shame as it had been working very well during the earlier runs.
"The performance was much better with the wing, so of course we had to use it, and I would still say that we have made a step forward thanks to the hard work from our guys."
"The team have made some good progress here and I had a decent balance up to Q2 today," Rosberg added. "Unfortunately I lost that feeling in Q3, which combined with the rear wing issue, meant we weren't able to get the performance out of the car which is frustrating.
"The car is better than we have been able to show so far this season but we don't know exactly why we are not getting more performance at the moment."
"We're still struggling with the consistency of the car and are not giving Nico and Michael the best chance to show what they could achieve," said team boss Ross Brawn.
"There are times when the car is working well and the pace is evident, however there are too many occasions where things are not functioning properly.
"We're quite clearly not where we want to be but will continue to work hard to achieve a more competitive position."
Sebastian Vettel (1st, 1:34.870): "It was a challenging weekend until qualifying today. I was happy with the car, but we never really got into a rhythm. Yesterday wasn't as smooth as we hoped for, but we knew the car had speed, so the main thing was to keep believing in it. In qualifying everything worked out straight away. It was very close in the end with the McLaren guys, so I'm happy to get pole. Big compliments to the guys in the team - especially those working on KERS, they did a lot of work since Australia. If we wouldn't have had it today, we wouldn't be sitting here now, neither me nor Mark, so compliments to the guys - it's a good reward. It's very hot in the garage for the boys during this race, the air is pretty humid, so at least tonight they will get some good sleep ahead of tomorrow."
Mark Webber (3rd, 1:35.179): "I knew it would be very tight; everyone was on a single pace after the first flying lap on the option tire in Q3. It was pretty straight forward for us; you have to just drive as quick as you can when it's like that. We can't control how tight it is, to get a few tenths more, you have to just do your best. It was a better performance from me today compared to Melbourne and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I'm starting on the clean side of the grid and it should be an interesting race - I think there will be a lot of pit stops."
Christian Horner, Sporting Director: "A great team performance today. To get first and third on the grid after a fascinating qualifying session, which was really tight with the McLarens today, is a great start to the weekend. On the final run and under huge pressure, Sebastian delivered just enough to get pole. Mark also improved his time and for the team to take P1 and P3, sets us up well for tomorrow."
Cyril Dumont, Renault: "It was a tough qualifying session, tougher than in Australia I would say. We had to do some set-up work engine-wise in order to improve the car from yesterday, so we're happy it was working well today. We have a one and three again for the start of tomorrow's race, like last year - although then the drivers were the other way round. Hopefully we'll get the same race result too - with a one and two finish."
Lewis Hamilton (2nd, 1:34.974): "That was an almost perfect lap - I lost a tenth-and-a-half in Turn 14 - so we're much closer to the front than we'd anticipated, which is positive for us. I'm really happy to be up on the front row. Hopefully, I'll have a better start than I did in Melbourne, so we can have more of a fight and I'll get a chance to compete with Sebastian at the first corner and for the first couple of laps. It's looking like a three-stop race tomorrow. It's been dry for the past two days, so I hope it's dry tomorrow. Being on the front row certainly helps when it rains, and it also gives us more opportunities to take a step forward. I have no doubt that we can overtake Red Bull in the development battle - it's just a question of when. We have to keep pushing to bring new components to the races; we can push this car to the maximum."
Jenson Button (4th, 1:35.200): "I just wish Q2 had been Q3, but it wasn't! I had a touch more oversteer in Q3, but that's the set-up direction I chose to take. The balance was pretty good, but I hurt the tires a little bit too much in the final sector, and that left me in fourth. It looks like it's going to be a fun scrap tomorrow - we're a lot closer to the Red Bulls than I think many people expected, and there's a margin over the guys behind us, so hopefully it will be the four of us playing tomorrow. Our starts weren't great in Melbourne. I hope they'll be better in this race; we have a very good KERS Hybrid system, so hopefully it will help us and we can really attack into Turn One. I'm looking forward to tomorrow - the weather has held off for the past two days. And if it's a dry race, we really should be able to take the race to the Red Bulls."
Martin Whitmarsh, Team Principal: "Both our drivers drove really well this afternoon, Lewis missing out on pole position by a just a tenth of a second and Jenson qualifying extremely close behind in fourth place. Clearly, we're encouraged by our pace here - but there's no magic involved: Formula 1 is all about hard graft, and I want to thank everyone back in Woking for working so hard to achieve the performance improvements that we've seen here today. We think our race pace tomorrow ought to be good enough for us to mount a very serious challenge for victory, and that's certainly what we'll be aiming for. But it'll be close, no doubt about that. Since the race is scheduled to start at 4.00pm, rain is a distinct possibility, because there has been a downpour at that time on quite a few days earlier this week. But we at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes hope it doesn't rain because we think we'll be on the pace if the race is a conventional dry one."
Fernando Alonso (5th, 1:35.802): "We weren't quick enough in Australia and we are not here in Malaysia either, at least not enough to fight for pole position. From what we have seen over these two races, there are two teams who have worked better than us over the winter and clearly we have to make some progress in terms of performance and there is no secret about that: we need to make a step of some quality, we need to be aggressive in our development to make up lost ground. At the same time, we have to stay calm and concentrated and, in the meantime, bring home as many points as possible, exploiting every opportunity that comes our way. The championship is very long and last year, we saw how the situation can change continuously from one race to the next. So, I feel this fifth place is a positive result, because so much could happen tomorrow, especially if it rains. Overnight and this morning after FP3, we improved the set-up of the car and I felt more comfortable than yesterday. I will start from the clean side of the track, which is never a bad thing. It's difficult to make predictions for the race: yesterday we saw very high tire degradation, so we can expect three to four stops. On Sunday in Melbourne, our pace was close to that of the McLarens and I was able to fight with Webber, but there in qualifying, McLaren was closer than they are here."
Felipe Massa (7th, 1:36.251): "It was definitely not an easy qualifying, especially looking at the times the top four were able to do. We fought with the others but clearly, compared to the best, tomorrow, we will be running a defensive race. From a strategy point of view, if it's dry we can expect three or four stops. If it really rained, then anything could happen and we will have to be ready for any eventuality. Today, the best result we could hope for was fifth: I was not able to do that, partly because I did not do a perfect lap, but at least I will start from the clean side of the track. We know we lack aerodynamic downforce: we are working on it, but only when we have made some progress will we be able to fight for the top places."
Stefano Domenicali, Team Principal: "We know that, at the moment, we are not capable of fighting for pole position: two teams are currently quicker than us. Our aim therefore was to be right behind them on the starting grid tomorrow and we managed to do that. Sure, we cannot be pleased with being a second off the pole time, but at the moment we have to be on the defensive, if I can use a footballing metaphor. The forecast is for changeable conditions tomorrow, which could mix things up. Furthermore, this is a very tough race both for the cars and the drivers. If we do everything well in terms of strategy, reliability and the work of the team and drivers, then we can aspire to securing a good result."
Pat Fry: "We are where we deserve to be at the moment, with two teams being more competitive than us. In qualifying, we worked well, making the most of our potential. We are a long way off the top, a second in fact and we are well aware that we have to improve a lot to be where the Scuderia ought to be. We opted to use one set of soft tires right from Q1, because with the performance difference between the two types of tire being much bigger than last year, there is no point in taking any risks at this time. Clearly, this choice worked against us in Q3, when both drivers were only able to do one timed run with the last set available, but at the moment, this is the best strategy. There is a high chance of rain tomorrow and we are well aware that, here in Sepang, that can mean there is a risk of a very heavy storm. We will have to be very careful to ensure we make the right decision at the right time."
Nico Rosberg (9th, 1:36.809): "The team have made some good progress here and I had a decent balance up to Q2 today. Unfortunately I lost that feeling in Q3, which combined with the rear wing issue, meant we weren't able to get the performance out of the car which is frustrating. The car is better than we have been able to show so far this season but we don't know exactly why we are not getting more performance at the moment. We need to look into today's issues now and have a good think to see what can help us improve in the race tomorrow."
Michael Schumacher (11th, 1:37.035): "We had some issues with the rear wing activation today and unfortunately that's what compromised my last run in Q2. The car became difficult to drive, which is a real shame as it had been working very well during the earlier runs. The performance was much better with the wing, so of course we had to use it, and I would still say that we have made a step forward thanks to the hard work from our guys. We now have to concentrate on tomorrow's race which we go into with the firm belief that anything can be possible."
Ross Brawn, Team Principal: "We had a difficult qualifying session today. We're still struggling with the consistency of the car and are not giving Nico and Michael the best chance to show what they could achieve. There are times when the car is working well and the pace is evident, however there are too many occasions where things are not functioning properly. We're quite clearly not where we want to be but will continue to work hard to achieve a more competitive position. It will be a challenging race tomorrow, unless the weather or other events play a part in creating opportunities."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "Ninth and eleventh positions on the fifth and sixth row of the grid are not the results that we have been aiming for. The team have worked very hard to set the cars up this weekend, however we clearly still have work to do: Nico's Q2 time was more than four tenths faster than the time he achieved in Q3 owing to an inconsistency of the rear wing, so there is more potential in the car. Our KERS system, which caused problems during the practice sessions and the race in Melbourne, has worked well and reliably so far. Everybody in our team is motivated to make the next steps in order to improve our package. Even though this task is challenging, I am sure that together we will achieve it."
Nick Heidfeld (6th, 1:36.124): "I'm very satisfied as I think it's the maximum we could have achieved, especially looking back at Friday where we didn't do many laps at all and didn't have a lot of time to set up the car. It got faster and faster in qualifying today, but I have to say in Q1 I took it easy then I pushed a bit over the limit in Q2 and lost some time there, but in Q3 I found the golden middle and it was a good lap. Of course, I was a lot happier with the traffic here than I was in Australia."
Vitaly Petrov (8th, 1:36.324): "To get in the top ten today is a good result considering the track time we lost yesterday. We worked hard on improving the set-up in final practice and in the end I had quite a good feeling with the car. For the race, anything can happen, but it's clear that looking after the tires will be very important because the degradation is very high here. We will also have to watch what happens with the weather because there is a high risk of rain. I don't mind if it's wet or dry."
James Allison, Technical Director: "We can expect lots of pit action tomorrow. We certainly had a troubled day yesterday, but there was no reason to believe from yesterday's running that the car was struggling for pace so it's very nice to be sixth and eighth on the grid, very nice to have both our cars in the top ten only having had one in Melbourne. It will do if we make a good start as both drivers are already in points-scoring positions. However, if we want to convert a promising qualifying into something very good then we're going to have to do well in what is certainly going to be an interesting race, whether that's with the risk of rain which is more than moderate and also with the fact that there's going to be a flurry of pit-stopping. That's one of the things we have less of a feeling for than maybe some of our competitors because of yesterday's compromised running. However, from what little high fuel running we did manage yesterday, we seemed to be alright for our race pace even with a car balance which was far from satisfactory. However, with the balance we've achieved today, we believe the car will run well on its tires tomorrow."
Rubens Barrichello (15th, 1:37.496): "We don't seem to have the pace we need in qualifying. We were stronger in Melbourne and so we need to analyze why and see where we are in the race. All things considered, my lap was ok, in fact it was probably one of my best laps around Malaysia but it wasn't good enough to counteract the performance of the car today. Whether we get rain or a steady run in a dry race we'll be going for points."
Pastor Maldonado (18th, 1:38.276): "That was a difficult session and we definitely didn't expect to be out in Q1. The car wasn't feeling as good as it was this morning. I had a bit of traffic as well so I didn't get a clean lap. We have a lot of tires now for tomorrow and the car goes better on long runs than it does in qualifying. With a good strategy who knows what will happen. There's no reason why we can't get into the points."
Sam Michael, Technical Director: "That certainly wasn't the qualifying session we were aiming for, but we struggled to get more out of the FW33 today. Tomorrow's race will be interesting, whether that's due to potentially wet weather or the number of pitstops made in the dry. Our focus is to score points."
Paul di Resta (14th, 1:37.370): "It was a very good job done by the team and equally, I think it was a very good lap by myself! We got more than I think we thought we were going to get out of it and I think that we have certainly closed the gap. But tomorrow is going to be a long race, in tricky weather conditions, but I am certainly getting more excited now about our progress with regard to improving our performance in the future."
Adrian Sutil (17th, 1:37.593): "The first qualifying session was not too bad I think and I felt quite positive. But we did not improve too much in the second session, which I was a little surprised about and we had a problem with a mis-shift. But I know the team is working hard to try and solve these issues before the race tomorrow."
Dominic Harlow, Chief Race Engineer: "Our aim was to maximize our qualifying performance whilst only using the option tire when necessary. Fortunately neither driver was affected by the Red Flag midway through the first session, and both drivers progressed to Q2. As we showed at the last race, we can score points from these positions given how close things are throughout the pack. Unfortunately Adrian had a mis-shift that cost him a better lap in Q2. We'll be looking for a solid race to take advantage of the opportunities that are bound to arise in tomorrow's conditions. With some more development over the coming events and Q3 only a few tenths away, we'll be working as hard as we can to improve on these positions in future and become regular Q3 material."
Kamui Kobayashi (10th, 1:36.820): "I'm quite happy with today's qualifying. Of course I was hoping to improve a bit on my very last run, especially as, unlike in Melbourne, I had a set of new soft tires left. But I think there wasn't more to get out of the car today. Nevertheless the team had done a very good job improving it after some problems yesterday. We found some things overnight, in free practice this morning we still struggled a bit, but then we knew what to do. It was here in Sepang last year where I reached Q3 for the first time in my F1 career. The race will be very interesting, especially in terms of tire degradation in the heat. I am certainly aiming for points."
Sergio Perez (16th, 1:37.528): "I am a bit disappointed because we had the potential for Q3 if I had got my final lap right. On my second run in Q2 I was caught in traffic on my out lap. On the flying lap sectors one and two were fine, but in sector three I had no front grip and the car was understeering a lot. Now I hope we have a good race strategy as I'm still aiming for points which, of course, is not easy from where I am starting. It will be a demanding race, but I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Monisha Kaltenborn, CEO: "Kamui did an excellent job. Sergio, like Kamui, looked good in Q2 but he just lost it on the last sector, so he could have been further up. We are happy Kamui did a great performance, and now we have to make sure Sergio gets the most out of the race the way he did in Australia."
James Key, Technical Director: "We went to FP3 with some changes on both cars after some of the balance difficulties we had yesterday. The problem yesterday was we didn't get the soft tires to work for us, but today it was different and both drivers were happier with the balance on this tire. We just did a single run in Q1, which was enough. In Q2 Kamui had a new and a used set of tires and Sergio had two new sets. It was a great shame for Sergio as his lap time was looking quite reasonable, but unfortunately he lost three to four tenths in the last sector. Certainly he could have been a lot closer to the top ten, but we know he is a good racer as he showed last race he can recover from that. Kamui did a great lap to get through to Q3 and then we just did a single run, which is always a little bit risky on a new tire. I don't think we could have gone too much further up the top ten, but maybe a bit more. We certainly can't complain as it was a very good qualifying session again for Kamui."
Sebastien Buemi (12th, 1:37.160): "I am very happy with how qualifying went today, as it is the second time in two races that I have produced a good performance, improving lap after lap. Unfortunately, I had a problem in Q1, when the left sidepod came off, but the mechanics worked well to fit a new one very quickly. I am satisfied, because in twelfth, we are not far off the Mercedes and quite close to Q3 and so we must continue to work hard to improve. At least it seems we are on the right road. We changed the car a lot between free practice 3 and qualifying and it was the right thing to do, especially as these settings should also work well in the race. I think it will almost certainly rain at some point tomorrow, so finishing the race will be the first challenge."
Jaime Alguersuari (13th, 1:37.347): "Finishing P12 and 13 is a good result for the team and I feel we have the potential to do a good race tomorrow. We got pretty much the maximum out of the set-up. Sebastien was again faster than me by a small amount, doing a good job. I feel we have a good set-up, whether it rains or not and I don't personally mind if it is wet or dry in the race. The key will be to keep the rear tires alive and make them last as long as possible and I hope we can bring home some more points for the team."
Giorgio Ascanelli, Technical Director: "I am happy to be ahead of Force India and I feel Sebastien did a good job this afternoon and is where he should be, which means he can have a strong race tomorrow. Up until this afternoon, I feel we did not get the best out of the car's set-up, but we turned the car around for the afternoon. As for Jaime, he too drove well. To sum it up, we did not do the best job in free practice, but we did in qualifying. As for the sidepod flying off Sebastien's car in Q1, at the moment, I have no idea if the part was not properly fixed or an insert cracked. However, there was no question about the integrity of the components, which is why we refitted another sidepod and sent him out again."
Heikki Kovalainen (19th, 1:38.645): "That was a great session for us and I'm really pleased with how we've performed. After yesterday, I didn't really know what to expect going into today's sessions but the guys have done a great job to give me a car that is totally different to yesterday. As soon as I went out on track this morning I could feel there was a huge improvement in every area and we have had no reliability issues at all today so I was able to really push. I've enjoyed the whole day and I felt like I was able to get the best out of the car in all the runs. There's still a bit more to come so I think tomorrow will be a really interesting race for us, particularly when you see how close we are to the midfield, and with the pace we know the car has in race trim."
Jarno Trulli (20th, 1:38.791): "Today's performance is obviously a lot more positive for the whole team. We had no issues with the car in either session and I think we got pretty close to showing what the car can really do. FP3 was very useful and we have also taken some good data from qualifying itself as we tried to get the best out of the car. The plan for tomorrow is to keep consistent and reliable, take our chances when they come and be there at the end. It is a long and very hot race where anything can happen but I think we are ready for it, so let's see how it goes."
Tony Fernandes, Team Principal: "Words cannot express how happy and overjoyed I am right now. To see 18 months of hard work come good with us finishing within a couple of tenths of teams that have been around for a long time, and less than a second away from the midfield pack, that is an amazing achievement. It is made even more satisfying after what has been a pretty hard winter test program, taking on the issues we have been working through and, honestly, not a great start to the season - but this is a great feeling. Both Heikki and Jarno know there's more to come from the car, and we feel good about the race this weekend. The aim is to keep our reliability and bring two cars home. I am really proud of the team, particularly after such a hard winter, so I take my hat off to every single one of them for keeping up the progress and helping us reach where we are today."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "A very very good day for the team, however we are left feeling a little disappointed because we felt we had a real chance of getting into Q2. We had no problems on the cars at all today which meant we were able to show the true level of performance that we had seen in winter testing, and ultimately we were very close to Q2 on merit. The drivers did a great job and the whole team has worked very hard to turn everything around from yesterday, and from Melbourne. In Heikki's last run he made a couple of small mistakes and we could have been even closer, but, looking at the positives, we are all looking forward to the race tomorrow. Tire degradation will be very important here - it will be an interesting Sunday for the whole grid and at last we have a car with which we can go and take the fight to the midfield."
Thierry Salvi, Renault: "That was a much more solid performance from the whole team, particularly compared to Melbourne where we were not able to show the true pace of the car. We have looked strong all day, especially in qualifying, and I think that we have found improvements in a number of areas that have contributed to the step forward today - cooling, engine mapping and the car behavior in general, I think this is a good result all round. The improvements are very encouraging for us and I think that seeing it here at Sepang is particularly pleasing as it is tough on everyone's engines, so for us that goes down as a good day."
Vitantonio Liuzzi (23rd, 1:41.549): "It's great for everyone that we were well under 107%. We proved that in Australia the problem wasn't a matter of pace but a matter of time out on the track, we had half a day of testing compared to the three months other teams did. You can't just gain mileage out of nothing. Now we have to work hard in the following months, in the next races to try and close the gap. This is just the first step for Hispania Racing, we've done a great job and we've improved the car a lot from Australia to now. I'm proud of the work done by everybody, starting with when they got the car on the ground in Australia and now having got it in good condition here in Sepang. We had a few minor issues both yesterday and today but that is normal when you're working with such little time. I think we can still improve, I did a good lap and this is the result: we will be on the grid tomorrow."
Narain Karthikeyan (24th, 1:42.574): "We made it through qualifying which was our aim for today. The car is virtually brand new so it's good to get some more mileage done, the more time we can get out on the track the better. I flat spotted my second set of tires on turn one so it was hard to set a good time with them after that but everybody worked extremely hard and we're delighted to be in the race. We marked Sepang on the calendar beforehand as one of the toughest circuits to get under the 107% time so it's a great satisfaction to have done it. Now I hope to finish tomorrow's race and get a lot more laps under my belt with the new car. They're forecasting rain for tomorrow so you never know what will happen out there."
Colin Kolles, Team Principal: "We made the next step by qualifying into the race. This was our target: to qualify and to be able to do more laps. By doing more miles we are understanding the F111 better and our drivers are getting more and more out of it. Both drivers did a good job out there today, Tonio set a very good baseline. Now we have set a base from which to work from in the future. Once more, I would like to thank the whole team for their massive effort. Now we have our next target in mind which is to keep doing laps and finish tomorrow's race with both cars."
Timo Glock (21st, 1:40.648): "After Free Practice 3 this morning I'd say we had some problems as we couldn't get the car to work like yesterday and we didn't have the same speed. My Race Engineer and Performance Engineer worked very well together to come up with a good solution which ensured we got back the performance level that we had until then. I was a little unlucky on my second set of tires when I hit traffic with Karthikeyan. I would have found a couple of tenths but this wouldn't have changed our position today. We've done the best we can with the package so as ever we'll be focusing on getting both cars home and making the most of every opportunity that comes our way - one of which may of course be the weather, as there is a chance of rain during the race."
Jerome d'Ambrosio (22nd, 1:41.001): "I'm very pleased with the job we've done today. It's definitely a step forward and I did a much better job than in Melbourne. I've learned a lot. I'm very happy with how we've worked this weekend and I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow - it should be very interesting with the weather and pitstops playing a big part I think. Overall I'm quite happy with this second Saturday. I'm making progress and I'm happy with that."
John Booth, Team Principal: "It's been a weekend of mixed fortunes so far but today I think we can be pleased that we made the best of our package and qualified comfortably - a step forward since Melbourne. In fact we would still have qualified well inside the fastest Q3 time, so we are better off here in Malaysia for sure. I think if dry conditions prevail tomorrow it could be a long race, but then you never know what the tires and weather have in store. There were a few showers in the neighboring area today, although none of them affected the track action. So we will look forward to tomorrow and aim to get both cars to the checkered flag."
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