Sebastian Vettel came out on top in a closely-fought qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.
Lewis Hamilton had been sitting on provisional pole after the first runs in Q3, and improved his time further on his second and final run. Vettel was able to beat Hamilton's time by 0.104 seconds on his final run though, giving the Red Bull driver his second pole position from two races in 2011, and his fifth pole from the last six qualifying sessions.
With the McLaren looking able to match the Red Bulls around the Sepang circuit, Mark Webber and Jenson Button were also in the fight for pole position with their teammates. In the end though they fell short and will line up third and fourth respectively on the grid for the Grand Prix.
The leading quartet all did two runs in Q3, but the remaining drivers waited until later in the session to just do one attempt on the soft Pirelli tyres.
Fernando Alonso was a distant fifth for Ferrari, ahead of Renault's Nick Heidfeld, who was able to put his nightmare Australian GP behind him and outqualify teammate Vitaly Petrov. The Russian was eighth behind the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa, the Renault team bouncing back after their mechanical issues in Friday practice. Nico Rosberg was ninth in his Mercedes, with Kamui Kobayashi rounding out the top ten for Sauber.
Michael Schumacher missed out on Q3, qualifying in 11th after being pushed out of the top ten by teammate Rosberg. Sebastien Buemi, who caused a red flag in Q1 when part of his sidepod bodywork flew off of his Toro Rosso, was 12th, just ahead of teammate Jaime Alguersuari. Paul di Resta outqualified his Force India teammate Adrian Sutil for the second time in as many races. The Scot was 14th, while Sutil was down in 17th. Between them were Rubens Barrichello and Sergio Perez.
Pastor Maldonado was the unfortunate man from the 'established teams' who got knocked out in Q1. The Venezuelan was looking set to improve on his final attempt until he missed the apex at the final turn. The Team Lotus cars of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli were 19th and 20th, but were encouraged at their ‘home race’ to be within half a second of Williams.
The Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing cars rounded out the times in Q1, with all of them within 107% after Hispania's failure to qualify in Australia.