Lewis Hamilton has taken his 40th career pole position in Malaysia during a rain-affected qualifying session, just one-tenth ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg qualified third, almost half a second behind Vettel.
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Pole position was far from straightforward for Hamilton, who recovered from almost being knocked out in Q2 when the rain arrived hard and fast to interrupt the session.
The rain delayed the final segment of qualifying by half an hour, at which point Hamilton was able to press his advantage in trying conditions.
With the rain subsiding by the beginning of Q3, but with the track still waterlogged, teams had to decide between the intermediate and full wet rubber. Mercedes gambled on the intermediate, and Hamilton was sent out after his teammate Rosberg had been despatched from his garage.
The intermediate proved to be the correct tyre, but those who chose the full wet tyre — both Williams drivers, Romain Grosjean, and Marcus Ericsson — forced everyone to take a second set of the drier rubber when they changed from full wet to intermediate halfway through the session.
Rosberg was still in front, but abandoned what should have been the first of his two flying laps, forcing Hamilton to pass him and lose time in the process.
Hamilton was subsequently forced to abandon his own lap, meaning both Mercedes drivers would have just one lap to stake their claims for pole.
Hamilton snatched provisional pole first. He was followed over the line by Vettel, who came within one-tenth of a second of seizing the grid’s front position.
Rosberg crossed the line last, when the track was theoretically fastest, but lost time to Hamilton in every sector for a lap that was half a second off the pole pace.
Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth, taking advantage of the wet conditions in his underpowered Red Bull Racing-Renault, and was four-tenths of a second ahead of his teammate Daniil Kvyat.
Max Verstappen mastered the conditions in his Toro Rosso to qualify a sensational sixth, ahead of a disappointed Felipe Massa of Williams.
Romain Grosjean scrambled to eighth on the grid, fending off the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas by two-tenths, while Marcus Ericsson qualified in P10.
Thunder and lightning threatened through qualifying one, but the track remained dry.
Mercedes’ Rosberg and Hamilton both revealed their cards early by running on the option medium compound rather than the conventional prime hard tyre, given that tyre degradation this weekend will favour the durability of the latter.
With sporadic running of soft tyres disadvantaging backmarkers who would otherwise fight with tyres amongst themselves, Felipe Nasr was unable to escape the bottom five knockout zone.
The two McLarens joined him, with Jenson Button outqualifying Fernando Alonso by one-tenth of a second in P17 and P18.
Marussia’s Roberto Mehri was unable to lap within the 107 per cent rule with a time of 1 minute 41.746 seconds, while his teammate Will Stevens was unable to take part in the session dur to fuel pressure problems.
The threatening rain arrived just minutes into the second qualifying session, with the ten-strong field jockeying for track position to set a dry lap before the track was soacked.
Sebastian Vettel led them, and was in the clear as the drops began to fall. As the weather intensified, Rosberg usurped him on the top of the timesheet, while Bottas slipped into third.
Kimi Räikkönen was the biggest loser of the session, his best lap, compromised by rain, was good enough for only P11, ahead of Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, Force India duo Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Perez, and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.