Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix after taming the wet conditions at Sepang International Circuit to fend off the opposition and finish at the top of the timesheets, underlining Mercedes’ dominance at the start of the new Formula 1 season.
Despite a lengthy delay and two red flags, the wet weather subsided to allow the full complement of running to take place, and Hamilton excelled in the wet conditions to edge out defending world champion Sebastian Vettel. The German driver missed out on his chance for pole after Red Bull mis-timed his final run, whilst Nico Rosberg rounded out the top three with a last-ditch lap to move ahead of Fernando Alonso.
After a 50 minute delay due to heavy rain, qualifying finally got underway on a drying track that forced the drivers to head out on the intermediate tire. With another rain shower forecast, Mercedes sent its drivers to the end of the pit lane early to ensure track position, and a number of other teams opted to follow suit. Lewis Hamilton was the first driver to post a lap time of 1:57.309, only for teammate Nico Rosberg to go one-tenth quicker. Just as they did in the dry, the Mercedes drivers appeared to have an early advantage in the wet.
As the drivers continued to circulate the track, Sebastian Vettel was given the call to pit due to an issue with his power unit that required fixing. Despite the rain appearing to grow heavier, a number of the drivers were able to improve their lap times. After having to make a tire change, Kevin Magnussen finally got out to post his first lap time and get out of the dropzone, but both he and teammate Jenson Button were at risk of elimination. Vettel finally managed to get back out, and quickly went about securing a place in Q2 by moving up into third place behind the two Mercedes drivers.
With one minute to go, Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson spun on the run-up to turn four and crashed into the wall, bringing out a red flag and ending the session. Alongside Caterham teammate Kamui Kobayashi and the two Marussia drivers, Ericsson was eliminated at the end of Q1. Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil also failed to finish inside the top sixteen, thus ending their qualifying sessions.
Once the debris from Ericsson’s car had been cleared, Q2 began with most of the drivers heading out early. However, the session lasted a matter of minutes as the session was red flagged due to debris on track, forcing the teams to box their cars and wait for instructions. Whilst heading back to the pits, Fernando Alonso was hit by rookie Daniil Kvyat and suffered front suspension damage that gave his team a small repair job to get on with as the session restarted. The Spaniard did manage to get out soon after the restart on full wet tires, but Valtteri Bottas braved the conditions on intermediates, but it was the wrong call as he found himself eight seconds behind pace-setter Lewis Hamilton.
With five minutes to go, most of the drivers opted to pit for fresh tires, but both Mercedes drivers continued out on track and lowered the benchmark further at the top of the timesheets. A trip through the gravel gave Kevin Magnussen a wake-up call, but both he and Kimi Raikkonen opted to end their runs early in the hope that none of the drivers below them would improve their times. Jenson Button demoted his teammate by one place after moving up into the top ten, and Jean-Eric Vergne pulled the same stunt on Daniil Kvyat to secure his place in Q3 at the expense of his teammate. For Williams, it was a difficult session as both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas dropped out in Q2, whilst Romain Grosjean rounded out the order in 16th place.
Q3 got underway with all drivers except Button and Magnussen heading out on full wet tires. Raikkonen’s initial benchmark of 2:01.218 didn’t last long as Lewis Hamilton went over 1.7 seconds quicker. Nico Rosberg could not match his teammate’s pace, but Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso both put in a good lap to move into the top three.
In the final few minutes of the session, the rain grew heavier and improvements were few and far between, but Red Bull shot themselves in the foot by mis-timing Vettel’s final run. Ultimately, Nico Rosberg was the only driver who managed to improve and move up into third place, but it was his teammate who took the plaudits by securing his 33rd career pole position.
Although Hamilton will be pleased to have secured back-to-back pole positions, the British driver will undoubtedly be wary of a resurgent Vettel and his teammate at the start of the race tomorrow. Just as he did in Australia, though, he has given himself the best possible chance of claiming his second win for Mercedes on Sunday.