For Sebastian Vettel the Malaysian weather played in to his hands as he took a sensational pole position in changeable conditions for the second Grand Prix of 2013, almost a second ahead of Ferrari duo Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.
It was the fourth Grand Prix in a row that Massa has outqualified his team mate Alonso, stretching back to Austin last season. Alonso bristled in the official press conference at suggestions that this is a problem for him, pointing out that Massa has always been a strong reference point for him, despite his problems of the last few years.
After barely making it out of a dry first phase of qualifying, due to nursing tyres for Q2 and the race, Vettel welcomed the rain and the opportunity to grab a second set of intermedia tyres for a pole position run. The heavens opened above the Sepang circuit and the triple World Champion and his Red Bull team timed his final run perfectly and he was able to take pole by 9/10ths of a second.
His tyre decision paid dividends as he secured his 38th career pole.
Red Bull looked to be struggling in the first two dry phases of the session as Mercedes and Force India were the pacesetters.
However, the session was massively shaken up during a short period of heavy rain before Q3 and Vettel remains the only man to take a pole position in 2013.
Massa, too, welcomed the rain in a fruitful session for Ferrari. They had also seemed to lack dry pace compared to Mercedes but turned it around in the wet conditions and crucially left it very late to cross the start/finish line for their final flying lap.
Massa’s front-row start is his first since Bahrain in 2010, where he ended the race in second place behind Alonso.
This weekend marks the 200th Grand Prix of Alonso’s career and is also the circuit where he took his first podium in 2003, decade ago.
Behind the top three in fourth place is Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes. He had held pole position with just a minute left in the top ten shoot out but with an ever evolving track he was shuffled down the order after passing the chequered flag. He had been outpaced by team mate Rosberg for much of the session, especially Q2, but he came through when the counting stopped.
The sister Mercedes of Rosberg was the fastest hard tyre runner in Q1 and went on to top the times in Q2; so the appearance of rain would not have pleased the team as the young German eded the day in sixth place.
The Mercedes pairing sandwich the Red Bull of Mark Webber, who was the first to pass the chequered flag and thus lost his chance to improve as the track continued to dry. Unclear radio communications were partly to blame, as Webber did not take a second set of intermediates like his team mate. He had previously topped the session but ended up over two and a half seconds slower than Vettel, indicating how much the track improved with new tyres.
Lotus had a disappointing qualifying session with Raikkonen suffering a hydraulic leak and failing to get heat into the intermediate tyres, after looking set for the front two rows in dry conditions. He ended the day in seventh place, but was dropped three places for blocking Rosberg.
Lotus again has plenty of race pace should tomorrow be dry and Alonso said that he expects Raikkonen to challenge him during the race.
Romain Grosjean was caught out by the rain; he was on a quick lap in Q2 when rain began to fall and he therefore could not improve and will begin the race in eleventh place.
Completing the top ten are Jenson Button, Adrian Sutil and Sergio Perez. McLaren once again looked to struggle in dry conditions but were closer to the mark in the wet.
Sutil showed very good pace in the dry and topped the times in Q1 as he continued his strong comeback to the sport.
Further down the field Jules Bianchi had another promising qualifying session for Marussia. The rookie is the only driver in the field to have never lapped the Sepang circuit prior to this weekend and he was able to end the day over a second ahead of team mate Max Chilton.
MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m49.674s
2. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m50.587s + 0.913s
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m50.727s + 1.053s
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m51.699s + 2.025s
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m52.244s + 2.570s
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m52.519s + 2.845s
7. Kimi Raikkonen * Lotus 1m52.970s + 3.296s
8. Jenson Button McLaren 1m53.175s + 3.501s
9. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m53.439s + 3.765s
10. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m54.136s + 4.462s
11. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m37.636s + 1.446s
12. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m38.125s + 1.935s
13. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m38.822s + 2.632s
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m39.221s + 3.031s
15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m44.509s + 8.319s
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams no time
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m38.157s + 1.348s
18. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m38.207s + 1.398s
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m38.434s + 1.625s
20. Charles Pic Caterham 1m39.314s + 2.505s
21. Max Chilton Marussia 1m39.672s + 2.863s
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m39.932s + 3.123s
* Three place grid drop for blocking Rosberg