Lewis Hamilton took pole position by seven hundredths of a second from Ferrari driver Sebastien Vettel, in what was a rain-interrupted Qualifying session in Malaysia today. The Mercedes driver set a time of 1:49.834 on Intermediate tyres, after a brief deluge of rain hit the circuit five minutes into the second part of Qualifying forced everybody to set their lap times on wet tyres for the last part of Qualifying.
The session meanwhile got underway in clear skies, with threats of grey clouds and lightening looking ominous in the background. Most of the drivers took to the circuit on the Medium tyre, including both Mercedes drivers which confirmed that they are looking at the Hard tyre as being the favoured race tyre given the Medium’s tendency to degrade quicker under the hot conditions. Everyone else more or less followed suit in the closing stages, with some last gasps from Lotus with Romain Grosjean who was in the drop zone.
The Frenchman just managed to get into the top ten as the chequered flag fell, knocking Felipe Nasr into the drop zone alongside Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Roberto Merhi, and Will Stevens who didn’t get out in Q1 because of a fuel pressure problem.
Onwards to Q2, or should I say the Qualifying Grand Prix of Malaysia as nearly all the drivers queued in the pitlane for track position, as the threat of rain got even more imminent. Nico Rosberg was told over the team radio that it was going to be an “urgent” outlap which required just one run, a process pretty much everyone else duplicated.
Sebastien Vettel was perhaps in the best position at the front of the field, however teammate Kimi Raikkonen was held up by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, which put him into the drop zone once he completed his first and only lap.
Carlos Sainz was also caught out in traffic, posting a best time of 15th as the deluge of rain prevented anyone from going for a second run. Whilst the session wasn’t red flagged, it was clear that nobody would be going back out due to the severity of the rain. That meant Raikkonen, Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Perez, and Sainz were all knocked out in that session.
After a 20 minute wait for the rain to stop we finally got back out onto the track for the final part of Qualifying, with all but both Williams drivers, Ericsson and Grosjean going out on the Intermediate tyre whilst they ventured on the full Wet for their first run. Of course it didn’t take long for them to realise that the Intermediate was the better of the two wet compounds, which prompted a quick stop to the pits for a set before going to set another run.
Meanwhile we saw the silver arrows of Rosberg and Hamilton start their penultimate runs, with Rosberg nearly blocking Hamilton halfway through the lap as he backed off through the second sector. Vettel meanwhile had started his final run, managing to get within seven hundredths of Hamilton’s provisional time, which he subsequently didn’t improve on.
After that all eyes turned to Rosberg, who crossed the line four tenths off Hamilton’s best on a 1:50.299 – meaning Vettel managed to secure Ferrari’s first front row start since Malaysia in 2013.
Bottas and Massa meanwhile could only manage 9th and 7th respectively after going back into the pits for another set of Inters with two and a half minutes left on the clock. Elsewhere the Red Bull trio of Riccardo, Kvyat, and Verstappen managed 4th, 5th, and 6th on the grid, with Grosjean going 8th fastest and Marcus Ericsson rounding out the top ten.