Sebastian Vettel was probably happiest when the rain came down in Malaysia as the German secured pole position ahead of Felipe Massa.
The German posted a 1:49.674 to beat Ferrari's Massa to pole position. It was Vettel's 38th career pole. Fernando Alonso qualified in third place ahead of Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg. Australian GP winner Kimi Raikkonen was seventh, joined on the fourth row by Jenson Button.
It was standard Malaysia warm as we headed into Q1 with the inevitable chance of a shower or two. The ambient temperature was an unwavering 32C with the track at 41C but no chance of a shower in the first few minutes. Thus we had to wait till there were 17 minutes left on the clock before the Marussias came out on track.
It was the Williams of Valtteri Bottas who set the first sub-1:40 time at 1:38.376 (faster than his team-mate) for P1 followed by Nico Rosberg whose 1:37.239 stood as P1 for a long time in the session.
The Force Indias had chosen to go out on the faster, medium tyre for their first runs, and they were joined by the Lotuses. Adrian Sutil took over P1 with a 1:36.809 and Kimi Raikkonen slotted into P2 for Lotus. Further down the field Nico Hulkenberg was vocal on team radio about being blocked by Sergio Perez, who didn't take his McLaren off line for his old team.
Red Bull, who were rumoured to have stationed ten different rain spotters in a circle around the track, left it very late in the session to leave the garage and with four minutes to go had yet to set a time for either car. At this point the bottom end of the grid looked like:
14. Hulkenberg, 15.Vergne, 16.Ricciardo, 17.Bianchi, 18.Chilton, 19.Pic, 20.Van der Garde, 21.Webber, 22.Vettel.
The Red Bulls duly set a time, but they weren't particularly quick, Mark Webber was P15 and Sebastian Vettel P13 as the tail end of the field put in faster laps. At this stage, the P.17 drop-point was: 15.Webber, 16.Gutierrez, 17.Bottas, 18.Vergne
Bottas, who had been overtaken by team-mate Maldonado couldn't improve, Gutierrez jumped to P11, Webber jumped up to P9 as Vettel's time started to dip towards the drop-zone. Although the World Champion was on a strong lap, Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso was the only car capable of demoting him and so when JEV could no longer improve, the Red Bull team brought Vettel in to save his tyres.
So, out went: 17.Vergne, 18.Bottas, 19.Bianchi, 20.Pic, 21.Chilton, 22.Van der Garde.
At the end of Q1 Gutierrez had run ten laps and Sutil just three. Marussia would have got both cars ahead of the Caterhams if it hadn't been for a lurid moment at Turn 6 for Max Chilton which dropped him 1.2 seconds behind his team-mate.
A significant item at the beginning of Q2 was the fact that the FIA rain radar went down. This was another failure of the official telemetry system after Australia last week. There would be no cockpit warning lights, or DRS activation or safety Car systems because of the problems for a second GP in succession - something that could be critical in setting in-lap deta times for Safety Car periods.
Paul di Resta was out first on the set of used medium tyres he'd just finished Q1 with. He was en route to setting a reasonable lap (fastest middle sector, but then again everyone else was only on out-laps, so he should be) when the team brought him in. It was his team-mate Adrian Sutil who set the first significant P1 time with a 1:36.834.
Again it was Nico Riosberg at the top of the timesheets in the W04 with a 1:36.190 - Lewis Hamilton slotted into P2, which was then taken by Mark Webber.
Hamilton reported back that there were spots of rain between Turns 5 and 6 and the rain started to increase. Without the FIA radar the teams hadn't seen it coming and so Paul Di Resta and Pastor Maldonado had yet to put in serious laps. In fact Paul Di Resta set a very competitive 25.0 for sector 1 before hitting trouble.
At this point of the session, with most cars anticipating at least one more run, the order was: 1.Rosberg, 2.Webber, 3.Hamilton, 4.Raikkonen, 5.Sutil, 6.Massa, 7.Alonso, 8.Button, 9.Vettel, 10.Perez, 11.Grosjean, 12.Hulkenberg, 13.Ricciardo, 14.Gutirrez, 15.Di Resta, 16.Maldonado
DiResta ran off track at Turns 5/6 as the rain began to increase. Nobody was going to set a faster time and it was pointless going out. So the Q2 times were locked and out went. 11.Grosjean, 12.Hulkenberg, 13.Ricciardo, 14.Gutirrez, 15.Di Resta, 16.Maldonado.
Most frustrated of anyone was Romain Grosjean whose mystery chassis problems and annoyance at team-mate Raikkonen getting all the development parts was plain to see as he got out of the car. Pastor Maldonado was relatively at-ease with failing to get in a competitive lap, pleased to see the car improved and probably most pleased of all to put some distance between himself and his team-mate.
The rain had fallen for fifteen minutes and the sun was emerging over part of the circuit as the cars came out for Q3 creating a rainbow. It was intermediate tyres for everybody through the whole session and so the top ten would be allowed to choose their own tyres for the race start (should it be dry) tomorrow.
Despite the period of rain, the temperatures were exactly the same as when the session had started, but this time the DRS was disabled.
Adrian Sutil took some karting (outside) lines around corners as he set provisional pole at 1:58.293, this was beaten by Sergio Perez with a 1:56.640 and then Lewis Hamilton with a 1:54.899. Nico Rosberg jumped to the top with a 1:53.898 as the track dried out and times got progressively faster. Sebastian Vettel proved this with a superb 1:52.576 before diving into the pits for some fresh intermediate tyres. Mark Webber was good for P2.
Webber continued on his single set of intermediates, as did the McLaren drivers, whereas Vettel, Alonso and Massa took on a second set. Webber edged out Vettel with a 1:52.244 lap and then was elbowed out of the way by Lewis Hamilton with a 1:51.699.
All ten drivers were on track and with the track rapidly drying the times were tumbling. Perez took P6, Button moved up into P4, Raikkonen took P4, Rosberg grabbed P3. Alonso then jumped into provisional pole with a 1:50.727 before Sebastian Vettel went a whole second quicker to take his 38th pole with a 1:49.674.
However there was more drama in the final seconds as Felipe Massa crossed the line to take P2, the second race in a row to beat team-mate Fernando Alonso. Hamilton had beaten Rosberg when it counted after lagging for most of the session, Button was in front of Perez, P8 and P10, and Kimi Raikkonen would start another race from P7. The most important thing was that the top 10 could start on exactly the same tyre as the rest of the field, though everyone is expecting rain at some stage tomorrow.
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:49.674
2. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:50.587 +0.913
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:50.727 +1.053
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:51.699 +2.025
5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:52.244 +2.570
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:52.519 +2.845
7. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1:52.970 +3.296
8. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:53.175 +3.501
9. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:53.439 +3.765
10. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:54.136 +4.462
11. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.636 +1.446
12. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.125 +1.935
13. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:38.822 +2.632
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.221 +3.031
15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:44.509 +8.319
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault no time
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:38.157 +1.348
18. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:38.207 +1.398
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:38.434 +1.625
20. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:39.314 +2.505
21. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.672 +2.863
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:39.932s +3.123
Saturday's Shots From Sepang
Any reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of 365 Media Group is strictly forbidden.