Mark Webber atoned for his disappointment on home turf in the Australian Grand Prix last weekend by opting for a bold tyre choice in the dying moments of qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang and storming to an unchallenged pole position – Red Bull Racing's third of the season – as world championship rivals McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari found themselves all at sea.
Webber was the only driver in the top ten shoot-out to risk fitting on intermediate rubber as the track slowly dried, and his decision would pay dividends – with a stunning end to the session earning the New South Wales native only the second pole of his F1 career, to the tune of an astonishing 1.3 seconds.
Former Williams team-mate Nico Rosberg will join him on the front row of the grid in Kuala Lumpur – the young German's best-ever qualifying performance in the top flight, and around a circuit where this time last year he vaulted straight into the lead when the starting lights went out from P4 – having again outpaced Mercedes Grand Prix team-mate Michael Schumacher, by more than a second. Considering the record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion always used to excel in such tricky climactic conditions, that is some achievement indeed.
Sakhir and Melbourne pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel made it two RBRs in the top three in third, ahead of the impressive Adrian Sutil for Force India, Williams pairing Nico Hülkenberg and Rubens Barrichello sandwiching Renault's Robert Kubica in fifth, sixth and seventh, Schumacher eighth, Kamui Kobayashi doing well to claim P9 and Vitantonio Liuzzi making it an excellent day for FIF1 all-round by completing the top ten.
And if the race tomorrow is anything like as unpredictable and action-packed as was the topsy-turvy qualifying session, fans look to be in for a real treat indeed...
With rain having begun before qualifying but the expectation that it would ease off during the session, some of the big-hitters played a dangerous game of poker with the heavens, in trying to second-guess what the weather was going to do and gambling on waiting before heading out on-track rather than putting an early banker in – and they paid a heavy price for their boldness.
Rather than relenting, the rain in fact came down even heavier – and turned Q1 into a lottery. Several drivers paid trips to the gravel trap – in the case of Hispania Racing (HRT) rookie Bruno Senna and, rather more significantly, defending world champion Jenson Button, irreversibly – as aquaplaning became a major issue on the sodden track.
Fernando Alonso performed a neat triple-pirouette in his Ferrari, rejoining just ahead of fellow title-winner and early-weekend pace-setter Lewis Hamilton, who was having similar problems keeping in a straight line of his own. As the clock ticked down, both men as well as Felipe Massa, Schumacher, Rosberg and Webber all found themselves in the drop zone – and not all of them would get out of there again.
Though a break in the rain and the warm temperatures offered hope of a late flurry, the final efforts of Alonso, Hamilton and Massa were not enough, with the Spaniard missing out on Q2 graduation by just under than two tenths of a second, and the title-chasing trio ultimately winding up a lowly 19th, 20th and 21st, just behind Jarno Trulli for home favourites Lotus and ahead of HRT duo Karun Chandhok and Senna, and Lucas Di Grassi who was late out following troubles with his Virgin Racing machine.