Sebastian Vettel produced a carbon copy of his Albert Park performance to claim pole position on a drying track in Malaysia. The world champion beat the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso in a frantic finish to the session as all three drivers reaped the benefit of a late switch to intermediate tyres.
After a dry start to proceedings, the weather changed the complexion of qualifying midway through Q2, leaving the likes of Romain Grosjean and Paul Di Resta stranded outside the top ten, and conversely Vettel was one of the beneficiaries having limped through the two knockout sessions, sneaking through Q1 in fifteenth before the rain fell with him dangerously perched in ninth in Q2.
The volume of water that fell before the start of Q3 forced all ten drivers to head out on intermediates and as in Australia, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton looked at home in the wet. Hamilton found himself on provisional pole with two minutes remaining after clocking a 1:51.699 on his third lap but the Briton stayed out, leaving him unable to improve as the grip fell away.
The Ferraris had gambled on a new set of intermediates and Alonso vindicated it with a 1:50.727 on his solitary lap but Vettel lowered the benchmark by a full second on his new rubber, securing a 38th career pole. The Ferrari alongside won’t be that of his perennial rival though after Massa’s final attempt edged him ahead of his teammate for the fourth qualifying session in a row.
Hamilton subsequently slipped to fourth while Mark Webber wound up a frustrated fifth in the second Red Bull after mistiming his final lap and taking the chequered flag before having a chance to start it. Nico Rosberg will start sixth in the second Mercedes ahead of championship leader Kimi Raikkonen who failed to maximise his new set of inters, although the last time he started seventh, he romped to victory. Both McLarens made it into Q3 after showing improved pace in the dry but Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were among the drivers who didn’t pit in Q3, leaving them eighth and tenth sandwiching the Force India of Adrian Sutil who was quickest in Q1.
The unfortunate Grosjean will start eleventh ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutierrez with Paul Di Resta shuffled back to fifteenth after the rain in Q2. The Briton was critical of his team after the session, blaming them for bringing him in on his very first lap of the second session. When he rejoined, Di Resta encountered the rain at turn seven and fell off the road on consecutive laps, adding to his anger. Pastor Maldonado was also caught out having opted for one run in Q2 as the rain fell before he ever got chance to start it.
Jean-Eric Vergne tumbled out in Q1 along with the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas while Jules Bianchi performed more heroics in the Marussia, coming within half a second of reaching Q2. The Frenchman outqualified his teammate Max Chilton by a full second with the Briton starting between the Caterhams of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde on tomorrow’s grid.