Lewis Hamilton maintained his clean sweep of 2014 pole positions by claiming the top spot in Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying, heading Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg at a treacherously wet Sepang circuit.
The second pole of the year for Hamilton is 33rd of the Briton’s career, equalling Jim Clark’s British record and the tally of four-time World Champion Alain Prost.
“The lap was far from being my optimum,” said Hamilton, who trailed Rosberg when they were using intermediate tyres early in the session, but had the edge on full wets. “I should have been able to eke out a little more time but thankfully it wasn’t needed. Conditions were incredibly difficult and it would have been so easy to get it wrong today. At times towards the end it was almost impossible to see if anyone was behind me.
“But I’m really happy with the result today. I would love to be able to dedicate a great result to the families of those who lost their lives (on Malaysian Airlines flight MH370). If I could win it and dedicate it to them, that would be great.”
With Mercedes having dominated the weekend so far, putting themselves a second ahead of the field in this morning’s dry final Free Practice session, the heavens opened in typical Malaysian fashion thirty minutes prior to the green light. With the storms relenting and the Safety Car struggling around on its sighting laps the session was held back by fifty minutes to allow the standing water to disperse.
By the final phase of the session, and following a number of tyre changes between the intermediate and full-wet tyre, it was the blue-marked full-wet in use for the final twelve minutes.
Hamilton and Rosberg’s in house battle was split first by Fernando Alonso and then by Vettel as the rain increased. And with five minutes remaining the Red Bull pair, with Daniel Ricciardo in fifth place, pitted for new tyres and the chance for two fast laps to snatch pole from Hamilton. Whilst the Mercedes duo stayed out a lap longer, giving themselves only one lap to try and capture the front-row.
Vettel and Ricciardo were unable to improve on their first laps and when Vettel held back to give himself a gap ahead, Rosberg took the opportunity to dive up the inside of his compatriot, causing Vettel to slow and consequently cross the line after the chequered flag, session over for him.
With Hamilton’s only threat coming from his team-mate, he made a mistake at turn four and had to wait to see how Rosberg would fair on his final lap. The German was able to improve, taking third place away from Alonso but unable to make it to the front-row. Hamilton clinched pole by 0.05s to Vettel, with Rosberg a further 0.6s adrift.
Alonso completed the second row after a troublesome Q2 that saw the Spaniard collide with Danii Kvyat, breaking the front-left suspension of the F14 T and caused the second red flag of the day. The halted session proved fortunate for Alonso as his team was able to quickly attach some new wish bones and send their driver out for the remainder of the session.
They will therefore be pleased to start so high up the grid, beating Ricciardo who shares the third row with Kimi Raikkonen.
“I didn’t see him coming, obviously, on the out-lap, it was a little bit aggressive with this visibility but we were lucky enough to put the car together quickly,” said Alonso.
“The mechanics did a fantastic job, but the car was not totally repaired. The steering on the right was so light and on the left so heavy that it was very strange to drive, but enough to complete qualifying.”
Nico Hulkenberg continued his stellar return to Force India, taking seventh place as his team-mate, Sergio Perez, could only manage fourteenth. Hulkenberg will start alongside Kevin Magnussen, the Dane also beating his team-mate in qualifying for the second time this year.
Jenson Button completed the top ten, with Jean-Eric Vergne and Toro Rosso once again enjoying a wet qualifying session to take ninth place.
Marcus Ericsson was the cause of the first red flag, losing the rear end of his Caterham on the exit of turn three, skidding across the track, in to the barrier and being narrowly avoided by the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m59.431s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m59.486s +0.055s
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 2m00.050s +0.619s
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2m00.175s +0.744s
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 2m00.541s +1.110s
6. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2m01.218s +1.787s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 2m01.712s +2.281s
8. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 2m02.213s +2.782s
9. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 2m03.078s +3.647s
10. Jenson Button McLaren 2m04.053s +4.622s
11. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 2m02.351s +3.310s
12. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 2m02.369s +3.328s
13. Felipe Massa Williams 2m02.460s +3.419s
14. Sergio Perez Force India 2m02.511s +3.470s
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams 2m02.756s +3.715s
16. Romain Grosjean Lotus 2m02.885s +3.844s
17. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 2m02.074s +4.891s
18. Adrian Sutil Sauber 2m02.131s +4.948s
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 2m02.702s +5.519s
20. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 2m03.595s +6.412s
21. Max Chilton Marussia 2m04.388s +7.205s
22. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 2m04.407s +7.224s