Lewis Hamilton edges out four-time champ by five hundredths of a second to take pole position
Sepang (Malaysia): Lewis Hamilton kept reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel at bay to take pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix in treacherous conditions, with the rain acting as a leveler of performance and allowing the Red Bull to challenge the Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton during qualifying on Saturday. Pic/Getty Images
Hamilton lapped the 5.543 kilometer long Sepang circuit in one minute, 59.431 seconds, edging Vettel out by just five hundredths of a second.
Nico Rosberg took third, six-tenths of a second off his teammate's benchmark time, at the end of an incident-packed session that saw two red flags and a 50-minute rain delay.
"A bit all over the place at the moment," Hamilton, who after yesterday's effort draws level with Scottish legend Jim Clark as the highest British pole-scorer with 33 poles, said.
"Today was just incredible, how much, firstly, it rained before qualifying and then during the session it was very, very tricky out there I think for everyone," Hamilton added.
The Malaysian Grand Prix is notorious for its weather and tropical thunderstorms are known to form all of a sudden with intense, short bursts of rainfall not uncommon.
In typically fickle style, after a hot and sunny start to the day, the heavens opened just before qualifying, a heavy shower drenching the Sepang circuit and making it impossible for drivers to take to the track.
The shower left a lot of standing water on the track and prompted a 50-minute delay to the start of qualifying.
The rain continued to fall with varying intensity throughout the session before coming down hard again towards the end.
"During my last lap I just couldn't see a thing behind Hulkenberg," Hamilton said. "I couldn't see where the track went, didn't know where the corners were, when to brake."
Behind the top three, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso bounced back from a collision with Daniil Kvyat's Toro Rosso that broke the Ferrari's suspension. Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull was fifth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the sister Ferrari.
Sepang: Force India's Nico Hulkenberg is hopeful he can carry his points-scoring form from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix over into this weekend's race in Malaysia following a productive day of running in yesterday's practice sessions.
The German racked up a total of 53 laps and ended the day tenth fastest, seven-tenths off Mercedes pace-setter Nico Rosberg.
"It was important that we got through our programme test items which we did and I think we learnt quite a bit and collected a lot of data," Hulkenberg said after practice, describing his day as "fairly okay."
"Hopefully we're in a position to collect points again here and next weekend, basically, pretty much every race."