Championship leader Lewis Hamilton edged out Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari to pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix by less than a tenth of a second in a rain-affected qualifying.
Hamilton’s first flying lap on intermediate tyres in Q3 proved enough to secure P1, as Vettel split the reigning Formula 1 world champion from his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg with second.
The Silver Arrows drivers appeared to get in each other’s way in the crucial closing stages of Q3, and Hamilton failed to improve on his final run while Rosberg’s final lap was only good enough for third.
The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat will line-up fourth and fifth, just ahead of the Toro Rosso of super rookie Max Verstappen, who rounded out the top six.
The drivers who began the delayed Q3 session on full wet tyres and had to switch to intermediates filled the remaining spots in the top ten.
Romain Grosjean’s Lotus split the Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, who could only manage seventh and ninth fastest times respectively, while Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber rounded out the Q3 times.
A thunderstorm in the early stages of Q2 effectively reduced the second segment of qualifying to a single-lap shootout, and delayed the final session by 30 minutes.
The big casualty of the scramble for track position to get one dry lap in before the rain came was Kimi Raikkonen.
The 2007 world champion was delayed at the final corner trying to pass Ericsson’s Sauber – the last car to make the cut in tenth – and by being passed by Hamilton’s Mercedes at Turn 1, and wound up only P11.
Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus, the Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez – who both ran on used medium tyres – and the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz Jr – who impressively matched Vettel in setting the fourth quickest time in Q1 – were also eliminated.
Australian Grand Prix star Felipe Nasr had a troubled Q1, having struggled to get comfortable with his Sauber’s handling since taking his car back from Ferrari junior driver Raffaele Marciello after the first practice session.
The Brazilian qualified almost three tenths adrift of Perez and that same time margin ahead of Jenson Button’s McLaren-Honda.
Yet again, this was a difficult qualifying session for McLaren. With both cars knocked out in Q1. Making his Formula 1 return is Fernando Alonso but this was a shock to the double world champion to only be down in P18.
Manor GP has at least completed some track running this weekend, but failed to qualify within the 107 per cent cut-off in Q1.
Roberto Merhi set a time almost half a second too slow to make the cut-off. 7.4s shy of the outright pace compared to the leading Mercedes.
While a fuel system problem discovered in final practice confined his team-mate Will Stevens to the garage, so no lap time was set in qualifying.
Despite that, Stevens registered a lap quick enough to make the cut in the second free practice session.
Previously the stewards have allowed cars to start the race in such circumstances, even if they haven’t posted a time in qualifying.
The wet weather tried to spice up the establishing order of Formula 1 and yet the same result reveals Mercedes still the quickest car. Ferrari are a close competitor and it’s encouraging to see Vettel splitting the Silver Arrows.
As for Max Verstappen, this talented 17-year-old is doing a solid job for Toro Rosso. Hopefully his car can get to the end and score his first championship points.
Qualifying times from Sepang:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m49.834s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m49.908s
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.299s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m51.541s
5 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull-Renault 1m51.950s
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso-Renault 1m51.980s
7 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m52.473s
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Mercedes 1m52.980s
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1m53.179s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m53.260s
11 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m42.173s
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Mercedes 1m42.197s
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m43.022s
14 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m43.468s
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1m43.700s
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.308s
17 Jenson Button McLaren-Honda 1m41.635s
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m41.745s
19 Roberto Merhi Manor-Ferrari 1m46.677s
20 Will Stevens Manor-Ferrari