FORMER world champion Lewis Hamilton avoided crashes and shrugged off a torrential downpour to claim a British record-equalling 33rd pole position at a thrilling Malaysian Grand Prix qualifier today.
In a session which had nearly an hour’s rain delay, and was twice suspended for crashes on the slippery Sepang circuit, the Mercedes driver came out on top ahead of surging world title-holder Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg, who won the season-opener in Australia, will start tomorrow’s race from third with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso fourth after surviving a collision with Daniil Kvyat.
Vettel’s new Red Bull partner Daniel Ricciardo will start from fifth ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg, who impressively placed his Force India sixth.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was given a three-place grid penalty for obstructing Ricciardo in Q2, and will start from 18th. But Alonso and Kvyat both escaped sanction after an inquiry into their crash.
Hamilton was thankful to grab his second straight pole this year, and the 33rd of his career – equalling Jim Clark’s British record – with a lap time of 1min 59.431sec, 0.055 quicker than Vettel.
“Today was just incredible how much it rained before and then during the session, it was very, very tricky for everyone,” the 2008 world champion said. “Particularly at the end, it was almost impossible to see. I tried to do my last lap but I couldn’t see a thing.”
However, the more significant result could be Vettel’s second place as the four-time world champion, who like Hamilton retired in Australia, showed signs of life after severe early-season problems.
“I’m very happy because we had a bad winter but the team’s fired up, the guys are pushing still flat-out,” Vettel said, adding: “I think we always have a chance to beat everybody, that’s why we’re here.”
Several drivers carried helmet stickers reading ‘Pray for MH370’ and the Malay-language version ‘Doa Untuk MH370’ in tribute to the 239 presumed killed in a missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet.