Jenson Button clinched his second pole position in a row for the new Brawn GP team at the Malaysian Grand Prix yesterday, while McLaren’s world champion Lewis Hamilton could only qualify in 12th.
The 29-year-old Briton, who won the season-opener in Australia last weekend on Brawn’s debut as heirs to departed Honda, will have Toyota’s Italian Jarno Trulli alongside him on the front row.
Toyota’s Timo Glock and fellow German Nico Rosberg, in a Williams, will fill the second row for what could be a wet and chaotic race that is scheduled to end in the twilight.
As in Melbourne, the grid again had an upside-down look with last year’s big guns well down the pecking order.
The pole was the fifth of championship leader Button’s roller-coaster Formula One career and the first time he had done it twice in a season. The Briton has already scored more points this year than in the past two.
An hour after qualifying had finished, torrential rain lashed the paddock with flashes of lightning across the darkened skies and thunder crashing around the circuit.
Toyota have yet to win a race since their debut in 2002, but Trulli, who finished third after starting in the pit lane last weekend, showed that they are closer than ever to the big breakthrough.
Germany’s Sebastian Vettel was third fastest and Button’s Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello fourth in qualifying, but both have penalties.
Red Bull’s Vettel was handed a 10-place penalty for a collision with BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica in Australia, while Barrichello drops five places for a precautionary gearbox change after Friday’s practice.
Hamilton, qualified 13th, but will start one place up the grid thanks to Vettel’s penalty.
Champions Ferrari had a self-inflicted nightmare, with Brazilian Felipe Massa qualifying 16th after a team blunder in assuming wrongly that he had done enough to reach the second session.
Ferrari have yet to score a point this year.
Teammate Kimi Raikkonen, winner in Malaysia last year, qualified ninth, but starts seventh after the penalties are taken into account.
The top 17 in the first session were all quicker than Massa’s pole position last year of 1 minute, 35.748 seconds, with Renault’s double world champion Fernando Alonso only just sneaking through.