Sebastian Vettel made it two poles from two at the start of the new season as he claimed the fastest time in the dying seconds of qualifying on the drying track in Sepang.
With three cars still running, Fernando Alonso went quickest before Vettel beat his time by more than a second and then the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa split the two.
The Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were fourth and sixth, respectively, sandwiching Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. Kimi Raikkonen, who had gone well in practice, recorded the seventh fastest time, but a penalty for impeding Rosberg puts the Lotus driver down to 10th. The McLaren of Jenson Button moves up to take Raikkonen’s spot on the grid ahead of Force India’s Adrian Sutil and the second McLaren of Sergio Perez.
With the track drying all the time after a downpour earlier in the session, Vettel made a shrewd decision to come in for fresh intermediate tires and just the right time to secure pole as he looks to claim victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix for the third time in four years.
“It was the right strategy to come in and change the tires and the pace was there,” Vettel said, according to the official Formula One website. “It was a good session in Q3 and it was clear what we had to do, so I’m pleased with the result.”
Massa also believed that he benefited from the decision to put on fresh tires before his final run, something that his teammate didn’t do.
“It was a great qualifying in which we managed to make the most of all the opportunities that came our way,” he said. “In Q3, we decided to stop towards the end of the session to fit a new set of intermediates and this allowed me to do a lap good enough to take second place on the grid.”
Despite being pushed down late on, Alonso was also happy and looking to go one better than his second place in Melbourne last weekend.
“I am very happy with this position as it’s been too long since I qualified in the top three!” he explained. “Something I have usually managed to achieve in the race has been missing for quite a while: maybe the rain helped us a bit as we were not the quickest in the dry, but starting in the top three gives us a realistic chance of a podium finish and we can even dream about winning.”
Rain is also predicted to fall on Sunday which makes predicting a winner as equally treacherous as in Australia when Raikkonen came from seventh on the grid to claim the win.
Where to watch: The Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix will begin at 4 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.