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Lewis Hamilton has splashed his way to pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix after prevailing in a session interrupted by a mid-qualifying downpour that would see Q3 held in wet conditions.

A large storm mid-way through Q2 would force Q3 to be delayed until the heavy rain eased, but when it did get underway half an hour later, intermediates were already the tyre of choice as the cars tackled the slippery, albeit improving conditions.

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Even so, Hamilton was straight up to speed when he ventured onto track, his first effort of 1min 49.834secs in the Mercedes at one point two seconds quicker than anyone else. He may have stood to go faster had his first lap on a new set of intermediate tyres had he not come across a touring team-mate Nico Rosberg at turn seven on his final effort.

His 40th pole position in F1, Hamilton will be joined on the front row by an inspired Sebastian Vettel, whose final lap saw him very nearly overhaul the Briton, the former champion just a tenth shy of the top spot, but securing Ferrari's first front row start since Malaysia 2013.

With Rosberg, who fluffed his final lap when he ran wide at T1, starting in third place, it is the first time since Hungary 2013 that both Mercedes' haven't locked out the front row.

The winner of that race, Daniel Ricciardo, will get underway from fourth position, just getting the edge on Red Bull team-mate Daniil Kvyat, who will start in fifth place.

An impressive effort to reach Q3 for the first time, teenager Max Verstappen showed impressively to qualify in sixth place in his first competitive performance in wet conditions for Toro Rosso, the Dutchman getting the better of the more experience Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, who will lock out row four.

Completing the top ten, Valtteri Bottas will start in ninth place, while Marcus Ericsson gets underway from 10th position, the Swede reaching Q3 for the first time in his F1 career.

The wet Q3 came in a qualifying session that had begun dry, though with heavy clouds looming and lightning striking around the circuit, it seemed only a matter of time before the rain would fall.

As expected, it would eventually make its presence felt shortly into Q2, prompting a scramble to get out on track early for a banker lap before the heavens did open, with Rosberg, Bottas and Ricciardo getting the jump.

By contrast, Hamilton found himself in trouble briefly, but would eventually end the session in eighth, unlike Kimi Raikkonen, who found himself down in 11th just as the heavy clouds broke and a deluge ensued. With the session running to climax, rather than a red flag, Raikkonen would be eliminated along with Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz, the quintet filling 11th to 15th on the grid.

Ten minutes earlier, Q1 took place in dry, humid conditions, with McLaren missing out on making it into Q2, Jenson Button 2.4secs off the leading time by Lewis Hamilton in 17th and a tenth faster than 18th place Fernando Alonso. They were joined in the drop zone by Australian GP standout Felipe Nasr, who fell foul of late improvements behind from Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson to leave him 16th on the grid.

Meanwhile, Manor's hopes of racing in the Malaysian Grand Prix will rely on stewards after Roberto Merhi qualified outside the 107 per cent cut-off point, while Will Stevens failed to make it out after developing fuel pressure problems. The Briton was inside 107 per cent in FP2, but just outside in FP3.