LOOK WHO'S BACK: Mercedes might be dominating the Malaysian GP weekend so far, but Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel is eager to make podium. Image: Greg Baker / AFP
SEPANG, Malaysia - 2014 F1 champion Lewis Hamilton splashed through the puddles at a rain-soaked Sepang International Circuit to secure pole for Mercedes in a hectic Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying session on Saturday (March 28).
The Briton, who cruised to victory from the front in the season-opening Australian GP earlier in March, battled through the traffic just to survive the final cut in Q2 and was rewarded with the 40th pole of his career.
HOT ON HIS HEELS
Hamilton clocked 1min48.834sec on his first lap of Q3 and the time was fast enough to hold off all challengers, including Sebastian Vettel, who proved Ferrari's impressive early-season form was no fluke with a solid second place.
Four-times world champion Vettel, who looks revitalised since joining the Italian outfit from Red Bull in the close season, backed up his third-place finish in Australia with a scintillating final lap to trail Hamilton by just 0.074 seconds.
The German not only broke the Mercedes stranglehold in qualifying by finishing ahead of a disappointed Nico Rosberg, but he also became the first Ferrari driver to sit on the front row since Felipe Massa at the same circuit in 2013.
Rosberg will be joined on the second row by Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo after a tropical downpour early in the second session forced the drivers to wait in the garage for 35 minutes before the track was safe enough to go out again.
Daniil Kvyat will start in fifth in the other Red Bull with Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen joining the Russian on the third row following another impressive drive.
Verstappen's qualifying was the best by a teenager since 19-year-old Ricardo Rodriguez started on the front row for Ferrari at the 1961 Italian GP. It also equalled the career highest grid position of his proud father Jos, at the 1994 Belgian GP - also in wet conditions.
The first round of qualifying went as expected with Hamilton edging Rosberg in sweltering conditions as dark clouds began to roll ominously over the palm oil plantations that surround the circuit south of the Malaysian capital.
The imminent threat of heavy rain sent the surviving 15 cars scurrying for the front of the pitslane at the start of the second phase, all with the faster medium-compound tyres in order to set quick laps before the heavens opened.
Rosberg and Vettel made it safely to the finish in dry conditions at the head of the field but the traffic behind left Hamilton eighth while Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was only 11th and missed the cut.
It was a bitter blow for the Finn, who had been quick all weekend prior to the downpour, but his absence opened the way for Romain Grosjean in a Lotus and Sauber's Marcus Ericsson to enter the top 10.
Grosjean was subsequently dropped two places for a pitslane misdemeanour, lifting Valtteri Bottas to eighth behind Williams team mate Felipe Massa in seventh while Ericsson moved up to ninth. Grosjean will line up 10th.
Down at the back, Fernando Alonso's return to action following a pre-season testing crash saw him qualify in 18th, one position behind team mate Jenson Button as both drivers struggled for pace in the Honda-powered McLarens.
Manor Marussia also had a day to forget on their first qualifying action of the season, Roberto Merhi was last in his team's modified 2014 car while team mate Will Stevens was unable to get out of the garage.
Stewards granted both Manor drivers permission to start. The 2015 Malaysian GP will start at 9am SA-local time.
2015 Malaysian GP QualifyingStay with Wheels24 for the 2015 F1 season – fresh reports every day.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1min49.834
2. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari 1min49.908
3. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min50.299
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) RedBull 1min51.541
5. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) RedBull 1min51.951
6. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Toro Rosso 1min51.981
7. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams-Mercedes 1min52.473
8. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 1min52.981
9. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams-Mercedes 1min53.179
10. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber 1min53.261
11. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1min42.173
12. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus 1min42.198
13. Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Force India 1min43.023
14. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India 1min43.469
15. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso 1min43.701
16. Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber 1min41.308
17. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min41.636
18. Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren 1min41.746
19. Roberto Merhi (Spain) Marussia 1min46.677
20. Will Stevens (Britain) Marussia