SEPANG: Despite struggling for pace in the practice sessions, Lewis Hamilton delivered when it mattered as he secured his 70th career pole position in qualifying at the Petronas Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix today.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas driver clocked one minute and 30.076s with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen a close second on 1:30.121s. Red Bull Racing duo Max Verstappen (1:30.541s) and Daniel Ricciardo (1:30.595s) fill up the second row.
Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas managed fifth on 1:30.758s.
Luck was also on Hamilton's side as Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, his main rival in the fight for the world championship title, suffered engine issues.
He was forced to swap engines prior to the session but then suffered turbocharger problems and was unable to set a lap time.
The German will start from the back of the grid tomorrow.
A visibly delighted Hamilton said it was a huge relief to secure the pole after what has been a tough week so far.
It was his fifth pole position at Sepang overall, his fourth in a row here.
"We had such a difficult day yesterday (Friday), did not know where we stood and did not know whether we could fix the issue, it was difficult to sleep," said Hamilton.
"We arrived with a better car today but still it looked like the Ferrari's were a little bit ahead.
"We had some big calls to make and managed to put together a few good laps and I was surprised myself.
"It is always a special thing when you can extract more from the car than it is willing to go."
Hamilton, who holds a 28 points advantage over Vettel atop the standings, has stressed that he needs to make the most of tomorrow's race.
"I do not really know what happened to Sebastian but he would have been up here with us, he had been very quick all weekend with Kimi.
"It is very unfortunate for him but of course we have to focus on the job and try to maximise every opportunity we get collectively.
"We still have a tough race ahead of us and hopefully it will unfold (well)."
Raikkonen admitted it was slightly disappointing not to snatch the pole from Hamilton but remains optimistic for the race.
"I think the whole weekend it has been pretty straightforward, the car has been handling well and we are quite happy," said Raikkonen
"Of course you can always improve here and there but it was a little bit painful to come so close to pole.
"Of course it was a shame for the team with Sebastian and not having him in qualifying.
"Tomorrow will be a long race and it will be tough on the tires but we have a good car and a good feeling."
Verstappen, who bettered teammate Ricciardo for the 11th time in qualifying this season, said he was happy to bounce back after struggling with his car's balance in the last practice. Additional reporting by SAIFUL AFFENDY SAPRAN