Lewis Hamilton claimed his second successive pole position in the wet, edging the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel into second at the Malaysian Grand Prix. The world champion will still be pleased with his efforts having split the two Mercedes, with the winner of the first Grand Prix of 2014, Nico Rosberg, starting from third. Rosberg just squeezed out Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso at the last, but the Spaniard was more than a second quicker than teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who will start sixth, just behind the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
In the tropical conditions, Hamilton was left delighted at giving himself another chance to kick start his season after being forced to retire in Melbourne. Adding particular significance to the 33rd pole of Hamilton’s Formula One career was that it equaled the 46-year-old British record set by Jim Clarke. And it may well have been one of the former world champion’s most challenging.
“Conditions were incredibly difficult and it would have been so easy to get it wrong today,” he said, according to the official Formula One website. “At times towards the end it was almost impossible to see if anyone was behind me. The team have done a great job once again, we have a great car, and we now have to convert this performance tomorrow.”
There was still much to celebrate for Vettel. After a turbulent winter for the Red Bull team, which has dominated Formula One for the past four years, they now look to be right in the mix with Mercedes. Indeed Vettel was only 0.055 seconds slower than Hamilton. It could have been even better for the German, who just failed to cross the line in time to get an extra lap on fresh wet tires.
“Q3 was not perfect,” Vettel admitted. “I would have loved to have had a second go -- on my first attempt I felt there was a little bit of time to gain here and there. It was very close, maybe too close, as if you look at the margin it was possible to go faster, but then if Lewis would have had another chance he would have improved also so, would should, could, at the end of the day it’s good to be on the front row and it should be the good side of the grid for tomorrow -- it depends on how our start is, but I’m happy with the result.”
There was a strong showing for another German, too, with Nico Hulkenberg qualifying seventh in his Force India. Kevin Magnussen, who secured second place in his debut Grand Prix in Australia, can also be contented having set the eighth fastest time and out-qualified McLaren teammate Jenson Button, whose decision to go on intermediate tires in Q3 failed to pay off. The Britain will start from tenth, alongside Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne.
There was disappointment for Williams after failing to back up their pace from testing and Australia. Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas qualified 13th and 15th respectively, with the latter demoted a further three places having for impeding Ricciardo.
Still, with more rain predicted on Sunday, anything is possible during what promises to be an intriguing Grand Prix.
Where to watch: The Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix will get underway at 4 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.