It was almost a formality, surely. As the final part of qualifying started it looked like a case of one man simply putting his lap in and grabbing pole for tomorrow’s Korean Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel had been in a league of his own for the whole weekend. Quickest on Friday afternoon, quickest on Saturday morning, pretty much untouchable in both Q1 and Q2, all Vettel had to do was go through the motions one more time and pole was his. That number one grid slot may as well have had the words ‘reserved’ and ‘Vettel’ written on it in plain view for all to see.
But Formula One does not work like that, and when push came to shove it was the world champion’s team-mate Mark Webber who produced a stunning lap to snatch pole from under the German’s nose and secure his first on-track pole position of the season. Webber’s time of 1:37.242 came in at 0.074 seconds faster than Vettel and secured Red Bull’s second front row lockout in as many races. The lap also sealed Renault’s 200th pole position as an engine supplier in Formula One.
Lewis Hamilton is third on the grid, admitting afterwards that he had extracted as much as he could from his McLaren. Also on the second row is championship leader Fernando Alonso, with the Ferrari appearing noticeably more competitive than in recent races. Both survived scares to even make it through Q1 however, with Hamilton almost being caught out by not going out for a second run and Alonso making a mistake on his final lap, the pair of them only just scraping through.
Kimi Raikkonen qualified fifth, and shares the third row with Felipe Massa, while Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg and the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher round out the top ten.
Jenson Button was the big name casualty in Q2, falling victim to a yellow flag on his final run which was being waved for Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso, which had stopped in the last sector with a technical problem, and will face a difficult task to get himself in contention tomorrow. The Brit lines up in 11th, just in front of future McLaren team-mate Sergio Perez.
Suzuka hero Kamui Kobayashi could only manage 13th, but both him and Sauber team-mate Perez are in a good position to optimize their race strategies, with a one-stop definitely on the cards for tomorrow. Paul di Resta, Pastor Maldonado, Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne also dropped out in the second part of qualifying.
Bruno Senna was the main player to exit at the first hurdle, with the Williams driver said to be suffering with set-up problems and only managing 18th on the grid. The Caterhams of Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen, the Marussia Timo Glock, the HRTs of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan, who survived a terrifying moment when his brake pedal failed at the end of the back straight which sent him spinning off the track, and the second Marussia of Charles Pic complete the order, although the Frenchman has a ten-place grid penalty for using a ninth engine this season, dropping him from what was 21st to the back of the pack.
1) Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault – 1:37.242
2) Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault – 1:37.316 (+0.074)
3) Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes – 1:37.469 (+0.227)
4) Fernando Alonso Ferrari – 1:37.534 (+0.292)
5) Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault – 1:37.625 (+0.383)
6) Felipe Massa Ferrari – 1:37.884 (+0.642)
7) Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault – 1:37.934 (+0.692)
8) Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes – 1:38.266 (+1.024)
9) Nico Rosberg Mercedes – 1:38.361 (+1.119)
10) Michael Schumacher Mercedes – 1:38.513 (+1.271)
Q2 Time to Beat: 1:38.436
11) Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes – 1:38.441 (+0.005)
12) Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari – 1:38.460 (+0.024)
13) Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari – 1:38.594 (+0.158)
14) Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes – 1:38.643 (+0.207)
15) Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault – 1:38.725 (+0.289)
16) Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:39.084 (+0.648)
17) Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:39.340 (+0.904)
Q1 Time to Beat: 1:39.180
18) Bruno Senna Williams-Renault – 1:39.443 (+0.263)
19) Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault – 1:40.207 (+1.027)
20) Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault – 1:40.333 (+1.153)
21) Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth – 1:41.371 (+2.191)
22) Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth – 1:42.881 (+3.701)
23) Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth – No time set
24) Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth – Grid penalty