Lewis Hamilton continued his fine start to the season by claiming pole position for the Formula 1 Malaysia Grand Prix, but Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel prevented yet another Mercedes one-two. Despite the Sepang track drying after a thunderstorm, champion Hamilton’s first flying lap proved enough to hang on for pole, although Vettel got within 0.074 seconds of him to deliver a rare challenge to Mercedes’ dominance. And Vettel’s performance proved enough for a place on the front-row of the grid as Nico Rosberg came up short with his final lap with time expired.
A storm hit toward the end of Q2, and almost caught Hamilton out as he just sneaked into the top 10 when the pitlane emptied in an attempt to put in a time before the deluge arrived. After a half-hour delay before the top-10 showdown could get underway, many initially went out on the full wet tires. But Hamilton went straight onto the intermediates and set a mark that his competitors failed to equal.
“I think the first lap was quite good,” he said afterward in the press conference. “It's always quite good because you go out and none of us have driven this weekend in the wet, so the first lap is always kind of just the unknown. You don't want to take too much risk so that you don't get the lap but you need a banker. My lap was feeling pretty good. I was pushing. And then the next one was up at one stage but just lost a little bit on the lap but generally a fantastic job for the team to have us both up here again.”
Hamilton was going even quicker on a later flying lap, before appearing to be delayed by his teammate. But he later played down the idea of any further problems in what last year became an increasingly fractious relationship with Rosberg. The German, beaten into second place by Hamilton in last year’s championship and in the first race of 2015 in Australia last time out, struggled in the wet and was even heard on his radio asking advice from his team as to what lines Hamilton was taking around the circuit. In keeping with the regulations, they declined to offer assistance.
“I just didn't drive well enough, so that's why. I'm annoyed by that. Third place is not good for tomorrow, but that's the way it is. It was quite interesting conditions out there, because there was so much grip it was unbelievable. I've seldom had so much grip in wet conditions, so it was very unusual. It was good to drive but not quick enough.”
It’s the first time Rosberg won’t be on the first row of the grid since Australia last year. Instead, Vettel received some encouragement for just his second Grand Prix in a Ferrari. There were no such positives for his teammate, however, with Kimi Raikkonen held up by traffic before the storm hit to leave him starting from 11th on the grid.
After days of public wrangling with Renault about the quality of the engine being supplied, Red Bull enjoyed a more upbeat day. Daniel Ricciardo will start from fourth, a position ahead of teammate Daniel Kvyat. Meanwhile, 17-year-old rookie Max Verstappen handled his first experience of rain in a Formula 1 car impressively, securing sixth place on the grid. There was again dejection for McLaren, however. While Fernando Alonso is in the car for the first time following the concussion that forced him to miss out in Australia, both he and Jenson Button failed to make it beyond Q3.
Race start time: 8 a.m. ET
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra