The rain gods smiled on world champion Sebastian Vettel in qualifying for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, helping him power his way to a commanding pole position for the second race in succession.
The 25-year-old, who also claimed pole at last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, set a time of one minute 49.674 in the dying seconds of qualifying, after switching to a new set of intermediates with just enough time left for one final run to take advantage of improving track conditions.
In the end, Vettel beat Ferrari’s Felipe Massa by nearly a second, who in turn outqualified his more illustrious teammate Fernando Alonso for the fourth race in a row. “Bit surprised by the gap but a decent lap and I was very happy obviously,” Vettel told reporters after qualifying.
“It was quite tricky because some parts of the track were still wet and others were dry but overall it was a good session for us,” he added. Qualifying around the 5.5 kilometer Sepang circuit got underway in typically hot and
humid conditions. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg initially set the pace ahead of Alonso with the times extremely close on the dry track, before Force India’s Adrian Sutil bolted on the softer tyre to go quickest with Kimi Raikkonen slotting into second.
The two Red Bulls, however, who also went out on the softer of the two compounds, could only manage 15th for Vettel and 9th for Webber, with the reigning world champion later revealing that he had been trying not to take too much out of his tyres in the first stage of qualifying.
The second 15-minute session of qualifying also got underway on a dry track. The two Mercedes set the early pace with Rosberg leading Hamilton before Webber put in a 1 minute 36.449 time to split the two teammates.
Rain arrived with six minutes of the session left and among those caught out was Force India’s Paul Di Resta. His teammate had already set the fifth fastest time and Di Resta was on his first timed lap after having aborted his previous run.
The Scot ran wide at the turn 7-8 complex of double right handers but continued only to spin at the same point on the next lap. The rain continued into the final ten-minute qualifying session before easing near the end and all of the top ten runners got out early on intermediate tyres with Webber, Hamilton and Alonso all taking turns at the top. In the end though, Sebastian Vettel
obliterated Alonso’s time to claim his 38th career pole.
Behind the top three, Hamilton highlighted Mercedes’ improved form with the fourth fastest time ahead of a frustrated Mark Webber who got the timing of his final qualifying run wrong. Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes set the sixth fastest time ahead of Kimi Raikkonen whose Lotus didn’t seem quite as poised in the greasy conditions as in the dry.
However, the Finn will start tenth after stewards gave him a three-place grid penalty for getting in the way of Nico Rosberg, moving McLaren’s Jenson Button, Force India’s Sutil and Button’s teammate Sergio Perez up a place.
Despite the blistering lap he set in qualifying, Vettel will have his work cut out come the race on Sunday. Last weekend, Vettel fell back to third having started from pole and sprinted away at the start as his tyres began to fade. Tyres are likely to be the deciding factor once again this weekend in the heat of Malaysia and making them last will be vital.
“Hopefully, we’ll find the right amount of percentage less than 100 per cent to start the race tomorrow. Managing the tyres will be crucial and then we go from there,” Vettel said. “We know the pace is there so hopefully we get to the chequered flag in the same position,” he added.