Lewis Hamilton stormed to a second consecutive pole position in a rain-interrupted Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying session that saw Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel split the Mercedes drivers by claiming second place ahead of Nico Rosberg.
In advance of the start of qualifying race control put the chances of rain falling during the session at 60 per cent and as the cars prepared to go out for the start of Q1, the skies above Sepang became ominously dark.
Q1 passed without showers, however, and Lewis Hamilton claimed top spot with a lap of 1:39.269 on the medium tyre. Rosberg was second, just over a tenth behind his team-mate, while third place went to Sebastian Vettel, whose time of 1:39.814 was set on hard tyres. Two other drivers, Bottas in P5 and Raikkonen in P9 also only used hard tyres in the opening session. Fourth place went to Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was sixth ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson
Eliminated from the session in Q1 were Sauber’s Felipe Nasr in 15th place, the McLarens of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso and the Manors of Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens. Stevens took no part in the session owing to a fuel pressure problem. Merhi, meanwhile, finished with a best time of 1:46.67. That was more than 7.4s adrift of Hamilton’s best and put the Manor driver outside the 107% of P1 time needed to race.
The start of Q2 saw a flurry of activity as teams dashed to get their drivers out on track as the threat of rain grew.
The first drops began to fall five minutes into the segment and the rush to put in a good lap. As conditions became undriveable a number of drivers were caught out, chief among them Raikkonen. The Ferrari driver finished in P11 with a time of 1:42.173, four tenths behind Ericsson who secured the final Q3 berth.
Behind Raikonen in P12 was Pastor Maldonado and the Venezuelan was followed, respectively, by the Force Indias of Nico Hullkenberg and Sergio Perez. Sainz, too, was caught out and the Spaniard’s good work in Q1 was undone by missed timing as the storm clouds closed in. The Toro Rosso driver qualified in P15.
With torrential rain sweeping across the circuit Q2 elapsed without further action and then race control announced that the start of Q3 would be delayed by at least 15 minutes.
The stoppage eventually extended to 35 minutes but at 6.15pm local time the final top-10 shootout began, with all 10 drivers taking to the track to test the conditions. Vettel set the first timed lap of the session a 1:53.178, but that was quickly beaten by the Mercedes of Hamilon and Rosberg, with the Briton heading the list with a time of 1:49.834. Max Verstappen was fourth for Toro Rosso after the first flying laps ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat.
Hamilton’s final lap was no better than his opening run but with Rosberg only improving marginally, Hamilton’s first flyer was enough to secure his 40th career pole position. It was Vettel who stole some of the day’s thunder, his final lap improvement to 1:49.908 putting him on the front row for the first time since Hungary last year and leaving him just seven hundredths of a second adrift of Hamilton.
Fourth behind Rosberg was Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat, with Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen an impressive sixth. Seventh place went to Williams’ Felipe Massa with Lotus’ Romain Grosjean eighth. The final top 10 places went to Valtteri Bottas in the second Williams and Ericsson in the Sauber.
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m49.834s -2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m49.908s 0.074s3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.299s 0.465s4. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m51.541s 1.707s5. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull/Renault 1m51.950s 2.116s6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso/Renault 1m51.980s 2.146s7. Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m52.473s 2.639s8. Romain Grosjean Lotus/Mercedes 1m52.980s 3.146s9. Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m53.179s 3.345s10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m53.260s 3.426s11 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 Marussia/Ferrari 1m46.677s -20 Will Stevens Marussia/Ferrari