Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix after making the most of the wet conditions in the final part of qualifying to finish ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
For the second race in a row, Hamilton will start on pole after making the most of the tricky conditions, and although he failed to better his time towards the end of Q3, the Briton had done enough to hold off the improving Vettel by 0.074 seconds.
With the thunderstorm threatening to hit the circuit during Q1, most of the drivers opted to get out early and post a lap time in case of a rain shower. Unsurprisingly, it was the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg that set the early pace on the medium compound tire, dipping into the 1:39s very quickly as Vettel sat third for Ferrari after his initial run.
Behind the leading trio, the fine margins meant the most of the runners had to head back out for a second run. Carlos Sainz Jr put in an impressive display to finish fourth for Toro Rosso ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean, whilst Marcus Ericsson got himself into Q2 for the first time in his F1 career by finishing seventh.
However, in the sister Sauber, Felipe Nasr was less fortunate, finishing 16th and dropping out in Q1. He was eliminated alongside McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, marking the first time that the team has lost both drivers in Q1 at consecutive races. Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens will form the final row of the grid tomorrow should the stewards allow them to race.
At the start of Q2, all of the cars headed out early as thunder and lightening began to close on the track, resulting in a queue at the end of the pit lane when the session went green.
As the drivers tried to jostle for position, Rosberg managed to find a bit of space to post the latest time ahead of Vettel and Bottas, but for the rest of the field, it was largely a question of timing. Hamilton managed to go eighth with his lap despite being released late by Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less fortunate, going P11 after being blocked by Ericsson.
Just as the field completed its first flying lap, the thunderstorm hit Sepang hard with heavy rain falling. With the drivers unable to improve their times, all opted to remain in the pits and stay dry, with the fate of the bottom five drivers already sealed. Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were usual dropouts for Q2, but Sainz was unlucky given his early pace in Q1. Despite appearing to block Raikkonen, Ericsson continued his strong showing by finishing 10th and squeezing into the final part of qualifying.
Q3 was unsurprisingly delayed due to the storm, with the drivers being forced to wait 35 minutes before the rain eased and conditions improved to allow them out on track for Q3.
When the drivers did head out, it was Hamilton who set the early pace once again, thriving in the wet conditions to beat Rosberg by 1.2 seconds with his first lap time. However, with the track continually improving, it soon became a question of being in the right place at the right time to improve.
Vettel was the first to improve his time, moving up into second place for Ferrari, and was assured of a front-row start when Rosberg failed to improve his time with his final lap.
Hamilton had also hit traffic, but with no other drivers improving, the Briton was able to celebrate his second pole of the season at the end of the session. However, with the Mercedes drivers both slowing down on their outlaps to try to create some space, they may have only hindered each other’s efforts.
Red Bull bounced back from its difficult start to the season in Australia by qualifying fourth and fifth on Saturday, with Daniel Ricciardo leading home teammate Daniil Kvyat.
However, the outstanding display came courtesy of 17-year-old Max Verstappen, who managed to qualify sixth despite having never driven an F1 car in wet conditions before.
Williams enjoyed a less fruitful session as Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa qualified seventh and ninth respectively. Romain Grosjean split the duo in P8, whilst Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top ten.
For Hamilton though, the rain was not enough to stop him from securing his second pole position of the season. Rosberg will unquestionably be hoping to hit back in the race, but with Vettel in second place, Ferrari will be hoping to get in the fight for the win tomorrow if more rain strikes.