Vettel wins second straight pole

Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull claimed his second consecutive pole by winning Saturday's rainy qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

As the rain intensified during the final segment of qualifying (Q3), Vettel, the three-time defending Formula One world champion, switched to a second set of intermediate tires, which worked out well for the 25-year-old German. He made a lap around the 3.44-mile Sepang Circuit in 1 minute, 49.674 seconds for his 38th career pole.

"I think it was an interesting qualifying session," Vettel said. "We knew the rain was the on the way. To be honest, we expected already some at the beginning of qualifying, but it didn't come. So going out on dry [tires], I think we had a bit of a different approach to other people. Q2 was quite on edge I would say, so probably the rain helped us a little bit."

In last weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix,, Vettel started on the pole but finished third, crossing the line a distant 22 seconds behind winner Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus.

Vettel has won two of the last three Malaysian GPs. His 2011 victory came from the pole. He finished 11th in this race one year ago.

Felipe Massa from Ferrari qualified second with a lap in 1:50.587. It's the first time Massa will start on the front row since the March 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix.

"I don't know if we were able to be second in the dry, as (there were) some other quick cars," Massa said. "I think it was good qualifying for us. We made the right decision at the start to change tires and managed to put a good lap together as well. I think maybe the rain helped a bit."

Fernando Alonso, who is the defending race winner, will start third after he posted a lap in 1:50.727. The Ferrari driver finished second in Australia.

"I am very happy with this position, as it's been too long since I qualified in the top three," Alonso said. "Maybe the rain helped us a bit, as we were not the quickest in the dry. Starting in the top three gives us a realistic chance of a podium finish, and we can even dream about winning."

Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes took the fourth spot, followed by Red Bull's Mark Webber and Hamilton's teammate, Nico Rosberg.

Raikkonen struggled throughout qualifying to place seventh, but his day got worse later when he was handed a three-spot grid penalty when race stewards determined he impeded Rosberg. That allowed McLaren's Jenson Button to move up to seventh on the grid, followed by Adrian Sutil from Force India and Button's new teammate, Sergio Perez. Raikkonen will roll off from the 10th position.

"It's obviously disappointing to lose three places on the grid, but we'll have to see what happens in the race," Raikkonen said.

Sunday's 56-lap Malaysian GP is scheduled to start at 4 a.m. ET.