Ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix Sebastian Vettel claimed the 38th pole position of his career with a perfectly-timed Q3 run.
On a strategy intended to use the same set of hard tyres in both Q1 and Q2, Vettel restricted his running in Q1, only emerging from the garage with four minutes of the session remaining and running at a very easy pace in his qualifying lap. He finished the session in a precarious P15. He pushed the used tyres harder in Q2 and, having gone sixth-tenths quicker, was holding P9 when the rains came mid-session and effectively ended any chance of him being overhauled.
“Once it was clear the rain got worse, it was also clear to us that our plan worked out with a little bit of help from the rain,” he said afterwards. “Good to save the maximum amount of tyres possible.”
If the first two segments were stressful for Vettel’s Red Bull Racing team, the final segment was a demonstration of authority. Having claimed provisional pole with his first timed run, the German World Champion’s name slid down the order as a clutch of drivers took advantage of the drying line to set faster laps – but Vettel was still circling. Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari was going quickly and he took provision pole position but Vettel was going quicker and quicker, setting fastest times in sectors two and three. Felipe Massa crossed the line narrowly ahead of his Ferrari team-mate to take second place on the grid but Vettel was already an imperious nine-tenths of a second in front.
While it was Vettel’s 38th career pole position and his second of the new season, this was Massa’s first front row qualifying performance since the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2010, where he also lined up second behind Vettel and ahead of Alonso.
“I managed to put a good lap together, even if I had a bit of graining in my first timed lap because the track was too dry maybe for inters,” said the Brazilian. “I think it’s a long time since start both cars with such good pace, in the top three [so] I think it’s a good job for the team as well.”
Alonso hid his disappointment and insisted he expected the Ferrari to be competitive in the race – while being unsure of what precisely the race might bring.
“For tomorrow I think we expect some rain around – like all the afternoons here, so if it arrives before the race, at the start of the race, in the middle of the race, at the end of the race, we don’t know. We need to be ready for any change. The only positive thing is that the car performed really well in both conditions so, we are not afraid of what is coming from the sky.”
Fourth place went to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, while Mark Webber will line up fifth after briefly holding provisional pole. The Australian was caught out, however, by the late flurry of quick laps and dropped down the order.
Sixth place went to Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes, while Kimi Räikkönen finished seventh. The Finn, however, was later demoted to tenth for impeding Rosberg. That means Jenson Button will start seventh in a much-improved McLaren, ahead of Adrian Sutil's Force India and the second McLaren of Sergio Pérez.
2013 Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying times
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:49.674
2 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:50.587
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:50.727
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:51.699
5 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:52.244
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:52.519
7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:52.970
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1:53.175
9 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:53.439
10 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:54.136
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:37.636
12 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:38.125
13 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:38.822
14 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:39.221
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:44.509
16 Pastor Maldonado Williams No time
17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:38.157
18 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:38.207
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:38.434
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:39.314
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:39.672
22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:39.932