SEPANG, Malaysia -- Sebastian Vettel is set to start from the back of the grid at the Malaysian Grand Prix after failing to set a qualifying time due to an engine problem.
An electrical issue in final practice prompted Ferrari to conduct a precautionary engine change ahead of qualifying, but the new power unit only completed half a lap in Q1 before another problem occurred.
Vettel was able to limp back to the pits where the engine cover was removed from the car, and while it looked like he might be able return to the track in the closing moments of Q1, Ferrari couldn't get the car fired up in time.
The Ferrari reliability issues could prove pivotal in the championship after he lost valuable points to title rival Lewis Hamilton at the Singapore Grand Prix two weeks ago following a first lap collision. What's more, Vettel's Ferrari had looked competitive at both rounds and was the favourite for pole position in Malaysia before the issue occurred.
Ferrari fitted a new internal combustion engine and MGU-H ahead of qualifying, meaning Vettel has used four of both components this season. Using a fifth of any engine component will result in a penalty, but Ferrari will likely use this opportunity to fit a fifth turbocharger to Vettel's car as he will start from the back of the grid anyway.
Initially Ferrari had hoped to bring an updated power unit at a later round of the season, but after Saturday's engine change Vettel will have to take a grid penalty to do so.
Following his elimination from qualifying, Vettel said: "It's part of motor racing. I didn't do anything today, this afternoon especially so it's not something to feel that much about. For sure it's not ideal, it's not what you want, especially on a day when you feel you've got it in you, you've got it in the car. But unfortunately we won't be able to prove that. I hope that Kimi will.
"Then we go for tomorrow, we save some tyres. So there are some positives given that it's a pretty bad day, but the race is tomorrow. We need to see now what was the problem, but we managed to do the change successfully in time. We thought we would be late but we made it, so the guys worked a miracle today, worked like crazy.
"It was like in the Cars movie where there are little Luigi's going round," he added. "They fixed it up so quickly, so it's a shame we couldn't get out. It's a shame I couldn't get it where it belonged for them."