Sebastian Vettel beat the weather, and everyone else, to take his second consecutive pole in 2013.
Vettel benefitted from the decision to fit a new set of intermediate tyres in the closing stages of Q3, and set the pole position time on a rapidly drying track at the end of qualifying, beating the Ferrari of Felipe Massa by almost a second.
It had not been all plain sailing for Vettel though, with his Red Bull lacking pace in the dry conditions, and his passage through the first two sessions could be considered somewhat fortuitous. However, the German, as he so often has in the past, delivered the goods when it mattered and with it came his 38th career pole.
Massa’s second place marks the first time he has qualified on the front row of the grid since the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2010, and the Brazilian’s dramatic return to form is further underlined by the fact that this is now the fourth race in a row that he has outqualified Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, who starts third.
Lewis Hamilton qualified fourth, although he will be disappointed after being on provisional pole towards the end of the final session and the Englishman also squandered a more favourable track position at the end of qualifying and with it, the opportunity to improve his time.
Mark Webber starts fifth, ahead of Nico Rosberg. Jenson Button will line up in seventh, although McLaren still have work to do in order to get their car back up towards the front, despite managing to get both cars into Q3, with Sergio Perez qualifying ninth.
Splitting the McLarens is Adrian Sutil, who was mightily impressive in the first two sessions, backing up his excellent performance in Melbourne with the quickest time in Q1. However, the Force India driver struggled when the rain hit the Sepang circuit, managing no better than eighth when it really mattered.
Kimi Raikkonen had qualified seventh, but the championship leader was penalised for blocking Nico Rosberg in the closing stages of Q3. As a result the Finn was given a three-place grid penalty and will now start the race from tenth.
After a dry start to qualifying, rain hit the circuit half-way through Q2, causing panic amongst several of the frontrunners who had yet to set a quick time, most notably the Ferraris, who just managed to put in a lap before the worst of the shower hit. Paul di Resta was the biggest name to fall victim to the weather, going off at turn seven as the rain beat him to the middle sector. He will start 15th.
The other victims of Q2 were Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado.
Jean-Eric Vergne and Valtteri Bottas were the big names to fall during the first part of qualifying, with the exceptional Jules Bianchi only two tenths off Bottas’ pace in 19th. Charles Pic, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde completed the grid.
1) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:49.674
2) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – 1:50.587
3) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1:50.727
4) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – 1:51.699
5) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – 1:52.244
6) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – 1:52.519
7) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:53.175
8) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – 1:53.439
9) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:54.136
10) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – 1:52.970*
11) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:37.636 (Q2)
12) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:38.125 (Q2)
13) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:38.822 (Q2)
14) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:39.221 (Q2)
15) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – 1:44.509 (Q2)
16) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – no time set (Q2)
17) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:38.157 (Q1)
18) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – 1:38.207 (Q1)
19) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:38.434 (Q1)
20) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – 1:39.314 (Q1)
21) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:39.672 (Q1)
22) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:39.932 (Q1)
* Raikkonen given three-place grid penalty for blocking during qualifying