Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel will start the F1 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix from pole position after timing his run just right in a wet-dry qualifying session at the Sepang International Circuit.
The German, who actually came close to dropping out in Q1, fitted a second set of Pirelli's intermediates and returned to the track as one of the last runners due to cross the line. The ploy worked as he clocked a 1 minute 49.674 seconds effort to knock Fernando Alonso off top spot. The Spaniard had only just usurped Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes, as the times tumbled in the closing moments. In the end Vettel took P1 by over nine tenths of a second.
While Vettel lines up on pole for the second race in succession in 2013 though, Alonso's hopes of starting alongside his rival were dashed as Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa followed the German across the line to claim second spot, out-qualifying Alonso for the fourth race in a row. It is the first time Massa has started on the front-row since Bahrain back in 2010.
Hamilton meanwhile had already shot his bolt and will have to start fourth overall, one place worse than in Australia, while Mark Webber deprived the Briton's Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, of a top five slot, although the Aussie was frustrated not to be higher up the grid.
Melbourne winner Kimi Raikkonen was seventh for Lotus, followed by McLaren's Jenson Button, Force India's Adrian Sutil and Sergio Perez - although the Finn will drop to tenth on the grid after he was handed a three-place penalty for impeding Rosberg in Q3.
As for Q2, Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta were among the sextet unable to improve after the rain arrived. It proved costly for a number of runners and both Grosjean and di Resta had failed to set a competitive time when the cloudburst struck, and steady rain thereafter put paid to any hope of an improvement, even though some six minutes remained in the session.
di Resta had been the first driver on track, but abandoned his first effort and was then caught out by a damp track at turn seven when the rain arrived. Another spin on his next lap confirmed that the conditions were too bad for a reprieve.
Grosjean, likewise, was in the pits when the shower started and, despite attempting a run on the medium tyre, hastened back to the shelter of his garage when it proved impossible to keep the Lotus straight. Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutierrez will split Grosjean and di Resta on the grid, while Pastor Maldonado fills P16 having aborted his run when the rain hit. Maldonado didn't even set a time in the second session.
In contrast to Q3 and Q2, Q1 was a dry affair, with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne and Valtteri Bottas joining the expected backmarkers in bowing out at the first hurdle, although the story of the session was Red Bull struggling for pace.
Neither Vettel or Webber had a comfortable 20 minutes, leaving it late before venturing out on track and then failing to extract decent pace from Pirelli's medium compound tyre. The pair were among six drivers to opt for the softer rubber but, unlike Sutil and Raikkonen, who led the timesheets, the RBR entries managed only 14th and eighth respectively, after taking two laps to set their marks.
Although Vettel slid towards the drop zone after abandoning his final attempt, he was prevented from making an awkward exit as both Vergne and Bottas had completed their runs. Neither was able to escape the bottom six, and joined Jules Bianchi, Charles Pic, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde on the sidelines for Q2.
Bianchi's performance was notable once again, as he lapped within a couple of tenths of the Williams driver. Hulkenberg also came perilously close to taking an early bath, but complained about being blocked by Perez on his flying lap.
To see the full times from qualifying for the F1 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix - CLICK HERE