Mark Webber grabbed a decisive pole position for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix in a qualifying session heavily affected by rain.
Three of the four world champions on the grid, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, and Fernando Alonso, will start tomorrow's race in the bottom eight because the top teams waited in the garage during Q1 for a rain break that never came.
Nico Rosberg out-qualified Michael Scumacher again on his way to front row grid slot. Vettel and Sutil make up the second row and Nico Hulkenberg got his best grid position so far in fifth. Kubica had another good qualifying for Renault in sixth and old teammates Rubens Barrichello and Schumacher will start together on the fourth row.
Kobayashi and Liuzzi make up the top ten, while Button languishes in sixteenth, Alonso starts in nineteenth, and Hamilton is stuck in twentieth. Felipe Massa will start just behind Hamilton.
Heikki Kovalainen made it through to Q2 at Lotus Racing's home race, and he starts fifteenth.
Heavy rain just ten minutes before qualifying meant the teams had to think carefully about their strategies for the session. Intermediate tyres were the order of the day as the green light came on to signal the start of Q1. Only one of the potential pole sitters, Sebastian Vettel, chose to venture out of the garage in the early stages.
With over six minutes of Q1 gone, Schumacher was the first to blink. Hamilton, Button, Alonso, Massa and Webber quickly followed the seven-times world champion out of the garage. Meanwhile, out on track, Sebastien Buemi was spending most of his laps bounding across gravel traps.
The top drivers, who had left it late to set a time, seemed to be regretting their decision at the half way point of Q1. They were a couple of seconds per sector off the pace and the track was not drying as much as they had hoped.
Lewis Hamilton had a spin in the final corner on his first flying lap, and his teammate Jenson Button ended his session beached in the gravel trap. Marshals tried to push the world champion out, but to no avail.
Michael Schumacher then came into the pits for the full wet tyres, an indication of worsening track conditions. Several other drivers followed his lead. Robert Kubica, Pedro de la Rosa and Sebastian Vettel, who had all set early lap, made up an unlikely top three, which looked unassailable as conditions worsened.
The remainder of Q1 was focused on Hamilton, Alonso and Massa desperately trying to get out of the bottom seven. Button was out of the car and out of qualifying, but did make it through to Q2. Despite the drying track, the trio all failed to beat Heikki Kovalainen's seventeenth-place time, and at their home grand prix Lotus had got one car out of Q1, as had Virgin.
The top teams had tried to be too clever, and instead of getting a qualifying lap on the board in the early stages, they had attempted to call the weather's bluff, and failed. The mixed grid bodes well for tomorrow's race.
Jarno Trulli, Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi had their positions at the back of the grid decided, and Button would start just ahead of them, as he could not take part in Q2.
There was no general consensus on tyre choice for the start of Q2, full wet and intermediate tyres were seen on the cars heading out of the pits. More rain was forecast for this session, and Michael Schumacher was one of the drivers hoping to get a quick lap on inters before the heavens opened.
The German's strategy seemed to have paid off; he set a lap time over a second faster than Sebastian Vettel's. This showed that the intermediate tyre was the one to be on, and on a drying track lap times were tumbling.
Nobody in the top ten was guaranteed passage into Q3, and Schumacher was quickly sitting in tenth place, looking precarious. He just about squeezed through though, and Vitaly Petrov, Pedro de la Rosa, Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Kovalainen and Glock went out. Vettel, Kubica and Sutil were the three fastest.
The two Red Bulls and the two Mercedes had made it through to the top ten shoot-out, but with more torrential rain falling, pole position could have been anyone's. Williams and Force India were having a good qualifying too; both of their cars would be participating in Q3.
In the final part of qualifying, everybody had seemed to have learned their lesson from earlier sessions, and all cars headed straight out of the pits on intermediate tyres. However, before anyone could set a lap time, the red flags were out, a completely pre-emptive move on race control's part, as the amount of standing water on the track had made driving too difficult.
With the clock reading 7:17, Q3 resumed after a short break, and the drivers came straight out of the pits. Unlike most of the field, Mark Webber chose to come out on intermediate tyres, an inspired decision. Webber's pole position time was over a second faster than Rosberg's second-place attempt.