Mark Webber took the pole position for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix with a steady, well-timed drive in a qualifying session that was scrambled by intermittent heavy rain. It's Webber's first pole of the year, but Red Bull-Renault has now claimed all three pole positions of the 2010 Formula One season.
Taking advantage of a tire selection of intermediates instead of the wets, like the rest of the filed, Webber made the right choice and his fast time stood up. Nico Rosberg, who had been up in the top of the time charts all weekend, was second and Webber's Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel took third.
The typical Malaysia thunderstorms have been in the area for the past few days, especially in the afternoons and, as predicted, they returned today. During the entire qualifying session, the thunderstorms caused havoc and delayed the final session.
Webber held his composure but the Australian admitted that it was not an easy task. "It was tricky today," he said. "When you look at the amount of standing water there was in places during Q1 and Q2, trying to get everything right and a clear lap was difficult, especially as there is a fair difference in pace between some of the cars."
That same pace was certainly not one the rivals of Red Bull had. Neither the McLarens nor the Ferraris even made it out of the first session and in the end it cost them with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa finishing in 19th, 20th, and 21st positions, respectively. Alonso himself was tricked by the outcome.
"We were expecting the rain to stop and that's why we stayed in the garage longer than the others," Alonso commented. "When we went out, in fact the conditions got worse and even on the extreme wets, we were unable to improve our time."
Hamilton and Massa felt the same way.
"This was just one of those days," said Hamilton. "It had been a very good weekend for us up until qualifying started, and the simple fact is that we didn't expect it to rain any more. We went out at a similar time to the other top teams, and as a result quite a lot of us were all out of luck. By the time I got out there, there were lots of yellow flags about, so you just couldn't nail it - and then it started to rain more heavily. You couldn't feel a thing -, it was so, so slippery. It was easy to come off - I had a spin on my first lap, in fact - but I did the best job I could in the circumstances. I'd been fastest all weekend, but what can we do? We've just got to shrug it off."
Massa commented, "We are very sorry about what happened. We waited a bit before going out, because it was raining hard and the forecast was for an improvement, however we found ourselves out on track where there was more water than predicted."
Out of all the top drivers, only Australian winner Jenson Button was close to making it to the second qualifying session, only to spin out at the conclusion of the first, placing the Englishman only as high as 17th place.
A lot of surprising names fill the grid from fourth to tenth for tomorrow's race. Germans Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenberg placed fourth and fifth respectively, while Robert Kubica took sixth in his Renault. Veteran Rubens Barrichello was seventh, while seven time World Champion Michael Schumacher finished in eighth. Kamuri Kobayashi and Vitantonio Liuzzi rounded out the top ten.
Webber summed up what all of the drivers were trying to do all day. "It was tricky in places, in the last corner there was a bit of aquaplaning, but I kept it on the black stuff and got the job done."
As always in the Malaysian Grand Prix, the race tomorrow will at least have one period interrupted by rain, just like it did last year.