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Webber Takes Malaysian Pole in Rain-Stopped Quali

April 3, 2010

Mark Webber gambled with intermediate tyres in qualifying this morning for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix, a move he’ll be glad he took after he set a time over a second faster than second-placed Nico Rosberg on full wets.

Webber’s gamble came after heavy rain and standing water haulted Q3 less than three minutes in. In a move that showed grit from the Australian driver, he opted for the intermediate tyres at the restart of the session, and it ultimately scored him his first pole of the season, setting a time of 1:49.327.

All-in-all it was a qualifying session that shook up the grid this morning, as the two Ferraris and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton saw an early exit in Q1 after rain played God.

Jenson Button also saw an early departure from the soaked track, aquaplaning at turn five in Q1, having just posted a time good enough to get him into Q2. But despite the time, he was unable to make his way back to the pits, and was unable to compete further.

The rain began to fall ahead of qualifying and at the start of Q1, the majority of the drivers, which included Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica, made their way onto the track, with the Ferraris, McLarens and Mercedes gambling and playing the waiting game. The gamble very nearly paid off as the rain started to ease, and Button, along with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, was able to post a time. Button’s teammate, Lewis Hamilton, wasn’t far behind and looked set to post a time good enough for Q2, but standing water in the final corner sent Hamilton into a spin, and he was unable to complete his lap. The rain then got worse, sending Button into the turn five gravel trap moments later. Hamilton was among those pitting for a set of full wet tyres, but the levels of standing water and the heavy rain meant he was unable to get a time fast enough to see him through to Q2.

It was a similar story for the Ferraris, and Fernando Alonso will start the race from 19th, ahead of Hamilton and teammate Felipe Massa in 20th and 21st respectively. The three front-runners dropping out in Q1 allowed two drivers from the new teams to go through to Q2, and with Button unable to participate in the session, and ultimately starting down in 17th, Heikki Kovalainen will start the race highest of the new teams for Lotus in 15th, with Timo Glock 16th for Virgin.

Q2 saw more of the same, and this time it was Michael Schumacher struggling in the Mercedes. He narrowly made it through to Q3, leaving Vitaly Petrov, Pedro de la Rosa, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari in 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th respectively, ahead of Kovalainen, Glock and Button. For those who made the top ten shoot-out, Q2 saw all involved taking P1 off each other, with Sebastian Vettel fastest heading into Q3.

Q3 began and the top ten headed out onto the track, but it wasn’t to be for long, and with seven minutes and 17 seconds of the session to go, race director, Charlie Whiting, red flagged the session. It resumed not long after, and all the drivers, except Mark Webber headed out for the final time on full wets. Webber chose to gamble, heading out on intermediates. He began the restarted session over a second off the pace, but with two laps to spare, he managed to set the fastest time. Nico Rosberg followed through in second. Sebastian Vettel, Adrian Sutil, Nico Hulkenberg, Robert Kubica and Rubens Barrichello, who had been taking pole off each other in the dying stages before Webber set the pace, will start 3rd down to 7th respectively, with Schumacher unable to improve on eighth and with Kamui Kobayashi and Vitantonio Liuzzi in 9th and 10th.

All in all, the grid has been shaken up, but as the race is due to start at the same time of 4pm local time tomorrow, the rain is likely to shake up the standings as well.

Will the race make the distance, unlike last year? We wait to find out.

Coverage starts on BBC1 tomorrow morning at 8am, with the race starting at 9am.

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