SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) — Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday, while Mercedes’ run of nine straight front-row lockouts in Formula One came to an end as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel qualified second.
A drenching thunderstorm delayed the final part of qualifying but even a wet track could not prevent Hamilton topping the grid with a time of 1 minute, 49.834 seconds at Sepang International Circuit.
Vettel was second, only seven hundredths of a second off Hamilton’s time as Ferrari showed it could challenge Mercedes in Sunday’s race.
Nico Rosberg was third for Mercedes while Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth ahead of his teammate Daniil Kvyat in fifth.
Toro Rosso’s 17-year-old rookie Max Verstappen was an impressive sixth, while Williams put in a disappointing performance on the intermediate tires used in Q3. Felipe Massa qualified seventh and Valtteri Bottas in ninth, though Bottas will move up a spot following a penalty for Romain Grosjean.
Romain Grosjean will start from 10th after qualifying eighth but being penalized for a pit lane violation in Q2. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson qualified 10th, but will now be starting ninth.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was the main victim of the rapid arrival of the rain early in Q2. Knowing the rain was coming, all drivers set out at the very start of the session, but Raikkonen ran into traffic on his flying lap and all drivers then immediately aborted any effort to improve their times as heavy showers swept the circuit. Raikkonen qualified 11th, having been in the top three of all practice sessions
Hamilton’s first lap in the treacherous wet conditions blew the field away, he was more than a second ahead of Rosberg and two ahead of Vettel. Though they made up ground on subsequent laps, it was not enough to beat that initial time by the Briton.
"The first lap was quite good," an understated Hamilton said. "It’s always difficult because none of us had driven a lap this weekend in the wet. The first lap is just the unknown and you don’t want to take too much risk.
"The next one was up at one stage, and then just lost a little bit on the lap, but generally a fantastic job from the team to have us up here again."
Vettel was hopeful of being able to take up the fight to Mercedes, with Ferrari showing in both wet and dry conditions that it was competitive if not exactly equal to Mercedes.
"You never know," Vettel said. "We know they are tough to beat, but ultimately that is why everyone is here; to try to win. it looks like we are a little closer here, but we will wait and see."
Rosberg made no excuses for his third place, ending the run of front-row domination, even though Mercedes extended its run of consecutive pole positions to 13.
"I just didn’t drive well enough and I’m annoyed by that, third place is not good enough for tomorrow," Rosberg said. "The clean side of the grid should definitely help me get past Sebastian."