Mark Webber gained the reward his commitment and courage deserved on Saturday when he survived tropical storms and a flooded circuit to grab pole position for the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix.
On an afternoon of downpours and high-cost bungled decisions by some of the leading teams, the Australian steered his Red Bull to a best lap of one minute and 49.327 seconds after swapping to “intermediate” wet weather tyres.
It was a decision praised by team boss Christian Horner, who was delighted to see Red Bull record its third successive pole in three races this season and the second of his career for Webber.
“That showed you how committed and determined he is,” said Horner. “There was a lot of risk involved, but as a team we were happy to split the cars. It was right on the bubble, but he got the lap in. He did a great job.”
Webber wound up fastest by 1.3 seconds ahead of German Nico Rosberg who grabbed the best grid position of his career for the new Mercedes team. “It was a tough call and it could easily have gone wrong,” said Webber. “I was thankful to get through earlier on when the other guys went out and today we all did it together. It's a great one for the team, we got the job done.
Rosberg added: “It is a great feeling to be here on the front row, but that was so difficult. I was just happy to keep I on the road.”
Webber's Red Bull teammate, Germany's Sebastian Vettel, who had been on pole for the first two races, was third ahead of two more Germans, Adrian Sutil of Force India and Nico Hulkenberg of Williams.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, in the second Williams, was seventh ahead of his old Ferrari teammate and seven-time World champion Michael Schumacher in the second Mercedes. Japanese Kamui Kobayashi was ninth for Sauber and Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi 10th in the second Force India car.
The session was hit by torrential rain shortly before it began and this caused widespread chaos — most notably for Ferrari and McLaren who blundered in their strategy and kept their drivers in their garages when other teams went out. This resulted in three of Formula One's four world champions contesting the 2010 title race skidding off the track.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso, his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa, 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren and his teammate and defending champion Jenson Button were all left at the back of the field.
Amazingly, their teams — two of the biggest-budget outfits in Formula One employing many of the most experienced and most expensive brains in the sport — decided not to go out early on and record a “banker” lap. This meant their drivers were forced to go out later in much more treacherous conditions that cost them dearly.
Button summed it up when he said: “We read it wrong basically. We thought that first rain storm was it and there was nothing else coming so we waited, and it was obviously the wrong thing to do.”
Hamilton, who criticised his McLaren team heavily last weekend for a bad pit-stop decision for him during the Australian Grand Prix, said: “It was treacherous out there, we were sliding around and aquaplaning everywhere. Of course, with hindsight, we would have gone out earlier, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
Alonso though remained defiant.
“For sure, we have to avoid these kind of mistakes. We really thought the rain had finished so we waited in the garage, but it got heavier,” he said.
“But the race is tomorrow and we saw last week in Melbourne that we can get results from the back of the grid, so we will just have to make sure we do that.”
Alonso qualified, 19th, Hamilton was 20th and Massa was 21st.
Button, the winner in Australia last week, spun off and had to settle for 17th.
The results: Top 10: 1. Mark Webber (Red Bull), 1 minute, 49.327 seconds; 2. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 1:50.673, 22; 3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 1:50.789, 19; 4. Adrian Sutil (, Germany, Force India, 1:50.914, 21; 5. Nico Hulkenberg (Williams), 1:51.001; 6. Robert Kubica, Poland, Renault, 1:51.051; 7. Rubens Barrichello, Brazil, Williams, 1:51.511; 8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), 1:51.717; 9. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), 1:51.767; 10. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Force India), 1:52.254.
Eliminated after 1st session: 22. Karun Chandhok (Hispania Racing), 1:56.299.