Lewis Hamilton joins Jim Clark and Alain Prost with 33 pole positions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 12:53am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 1:27am

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix yesterday to tie the record for most qualifying wins by a British driver in Formula One.

Tropical rain delayed the start of qualifying for 50 minutes, but even the wet track at the Sepang International Circuit could not prevent Mercedes continuing the dominance it had shown all weekend as Hamilton made it back-to-back poles to start the new season.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel came close, but the four-time defending champion finished five hundredths of a second behind Hamilton and just in front of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who qualified third.

Hamilton's pole was the 33rd of his career, bringing him level with former world champion Jim Clark for the most by any British driver, and also level with Alain Prost. It also puts him in an ideal position to make up for his early retirement from the season opener in Australia because of an engine misfire.

"I'm really happy with how well we've done over the weekend, but today was incredible - how heavy was the rain?" Hamilton said. "It was tricky out there for everyone because at the end it was almost impossible to see. I couldn't see where the track went, where the corners were, where to brake. I had to bail out of my final fast lap."

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso recovered from a crash that broke his front suspension in the second session of qualifying and will start from fourth on the grid. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen qualified sixth, behind Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.

Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen, Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne and McLaren's Jenson Button rounded out the top 10.

Vettel's performance was impressive given Mercedes had been expected to be far too quick in dry or wet conditions. When he saw how narrowly he missed out on pole he quipped to Hamilton "you're kidding" as they met in the pits, then jokingly tried to nudge Hamilton off the official weighing scales.

It was a good recovery by Red Bull and left the German in bullish mood about being able to take on the Mercedes cars today, having also retired early in Australia.

"They are the most competitive package, it is difficult to beat them on the day, but not impossible," Vettel said.