While an engine failure condemned Vettel to last on the grid, Hamilton, a distant sixth in Friday practice and just fourth in Q2, secured one of the most unlikely pole positions of his career with a bolt-from-the-blue lap at the start of Q3.
After his victory at the last round in Singapore, Hamilton has a 28-point lead over his world championship rival Sebastian Vettel, who was eliminated from the race after a first corner crash.
Just as Sebastian Vettel appeared all set to revive his title hopes, the Ferrari driver suffered a major blow when he was denied a chance of qualifying for the Malaysian GP. We are going to have a tough race against these guys, particularly the Red Bull pair as they had good long run pace yesterday and today. "I've been struggling with the vehicle today, so we have to review and try to understand where we have gone wrong with the balance".
"I really want to improve and redeem myself because a year ago we did not achieve a great result from my side here", he told reporters in a press conference at the Galeri Petronas, here, Tuesday.
Hamilton added: "I don't really know where it came from so I'm a little bit surprised at myself".
Vettel's engine had already been changed to a new one before qualifying after a similar gremlin in final practice Saturday - only for the new unit to fail.
Having qualified on pole in Singapore, the stage was set for Vettel to retake the championship lead he had squandered for the first time in 2017.
"It's been a decent day", Vettel told Sky TV.
Raikkonen will not change plans to help Vettel
"But there wasn't enough time so we ended up staying with it and also it was a risk changing the auto again before qualifying and maybe getting something wrong".
"I felt like I made the right decision, but even if I'd stayed ahead I think he would have understood", Hamilton said.
Hamilton offered his condolences to Vettel and admitted he was not expecting to be celebrating his fifth pole position in Malaysia after his weekend leading into qualifying.
"I'll have a quick stop in Tokyo on the way to Suzuka".
"I think it depends on the points you have at the end of the year".
"Not at all, I don't feel like I need to either", he said.
Behind Bottas, the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were eighth and 10th, split by Renault's Nico Hulkenberg.
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