2014 Malaysia GP Qualy: Lewis Hamilton masters rain again to claim second 2014 pole
Hamilton equals Jim Clark's British record after pipping Vettel; Alonso recovers from Kvyat clash to take fourth; 50-minute session delay after succession of downpours at Sepang
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 30/03/14 8:14am
In an intensely challenging qualifying session for the field at Sepang which was originally delayed by 50 minutes after a succession of heavy thundery downpours and then twice red flagged once the action did get underway, Hamilton just emerged on top in Q3 from Sebastian Vettel as the World Champion announced his arrival at the front of the field in 2014 after his completely forgettable Melbourne.
Indeed, things could have perhaps have been even better for Vettel as the Red Bull driver, who lapped a mere 0.55s slower than Hamilton's 1:59.431, just missed out on an extra lap on fresh wet tyres before the chequered flag dropped after appearing to dawdle as he rounded the final corner on his out lap in a bid to find some clean air.
In any case, by beating the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg to the second frontrow berth - the second time in a row the German has been demoted into third place by a Red Bull in qualifying - the start of Sunday's race will feature a direct fight to the first corner between the two pre-season title favourites, both of whom are yet to get off the mark in 2014 after retiring early on at Melbourne.
For Hamilton, pole undoubtedly represents the best chance to win just his second race for Mercedes - and first ever at the eighth attempt at Sepang - provided his W05 holds together this time. In any case, the 29-year-old has already created a piece of history in Malaysia by equalling the legendary Jim Clark's British-best mark of 33 career poles.
Fernando Alonso will start fourth alongside Rosberg after overcoming a stronger intra-Ferrari challenge from Kimi Raikkonen, who will line up two places behind in sixth.
However, Alonso was fortunate to get that far after a tangle with Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat in Q2 broke the front-left suspension on his Ferrari. The incident is currently under investigation by the stewards.
However, aided by a delay to the session while marshals cleared the debris from the same incident, Ferrari's mechanics impressively fixed the damage in quick order and got the Spaniard back on his way.
Daniel Ricciardo will line up between the two Ferraris in fifth for his second Red Bull race, with Nico Hulkenberg again running strongly for Force India to take seventh.
Although eighth is four places worse off than he qualified on his storming F1 debut in Melbourne, Kevin Magnussen, despite damaging his McLaren in a Q2 spin, again outqualified senior team-mate Jenson Button, whose gamble on running intermediate tyres in the heavier Q3 rain failed to pay dividends. The Briton will share row five with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne.
Williams, who displayed front-running race pace in Melbourne, suffered acute disappointment as both their drivers failed to make the top-ten cut. But with the team admitting the FW36 is lacking rear downforce, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas's 13th and 15th places respectively was not as big a surprise as it would have been had conditions been dry.
Should conditions improve on Sunday, then both would likely fancy their chances of making good progress up the order, although Bottas has been demoted to 18th place by the stewards for blocking Ricciardo in Q2.
In a qualifying hour which saw numerous drivers caught out by the conditions and running off the road, Caterham's Marcus Ericsson experienced by far the most spectacular moment at the end of Q1.
Struggling badly for grip around the outside of the usually flat-out Turn Three, the Swede lost control after going on the wet kerb and slewed into the outside barriers before crossing back across the track, obliterating one of the advertising boards on his way.
Sunday's race starts at 9am with coverage underway at 8am on Sky Sports F1.
Provisional Malaysian GP grid
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes.
2. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull.
3. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes.
4. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari.
5. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull.
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari.
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India.
8. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren.
9. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso.
10. Jenson Button, McLaren.
11. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso.
12. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber.
13. Felipe Massa, Williams.
14. Sergio Perez, Force India.
15. Romain Grosjean, Lotus.
16. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus.
17. Adrian Sutil, Sauber.
18. Valtteri Bottas*, Williams.
19. Jules Bianchi, Marussia.
20. Kamui Kobayashi, Caterham.
21. Max Chilton, Marussia.
22. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham.
* Three-place grid penalty.