Sebastian Vettel will start tomorrow’s inaugural Korean Grand Prix from pole position after an extremely tight qualifying session. Mark Webber was just 7/100ths of a second slower in second place with Fernando Alonso a further 9/100ths off Webber.
Webber starts on the dirty side of the grid and thus faces an immediate threat at the start of tomorrow’s Grand Prix from Fernando Alonso, who will start third on the clean side. As this is a new circuit which was very dirty at the outset, it is treacherous off the racing line and with Webber’s unconvincing starts recently, there is a very real chance he will lose at least one place tomorrow. If he finishes third behind Vettel and Alonso, his lead over Vettel will be down to just four points with two races to go.
The start will be very tight, it’s a short run to Turn 1, but then a tight angle. Then there will be further attacks into Turn 3, at the end of the longest straight in F1. The order at the end of lap one could be quite different from the grid.
Race strategy will be very important tomorrow. All the signs are that the soft tyres the top ten runners will be starting on will grain quickly, so early stops are likely. It is possible that we may see some drivers trying a two stop plan, as in Montreal. This will make the battle between the front runners very interesting and it may offer an alternative strategy to the McLaren drivers, who are likely to be much faster in the race than in qualifying. Button likes doing things differently, so we may see that tomorrow. If he doesn’t do something then his championship quest will almost certainly fade away.
“We were very quick in practice, so I don’t know where the Red Bulls found an extra half a second in Q3,” said Hamilton. “Still, it’s important to remember that we’re still in the fight: we make good starts, and there are some long straights here, which should suit us.”
In the first part of qualifying, Hamilton set the pace ahead of Vettel. At the back of the field, Force India were obliged to use a set of soft tyres to make the cut, Sutil did it, Liuzzi failed and was eliminated from Q1 for the fourth time this season. He complained of graining problems on his lap.
Jenson Button was a second down on Hamilton, complaining over the radio that his front wheels were locking.
In Q2 the decision to be made was whether to run the hard or soft tyre. Massa went out on softs first, but was slower than Fernando Alonso. At the end of the session, most drivers went onto the soft tyre as the track improved all the time.
Eliminated from Q2 were Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Heidfeld, Sutil, Petrov (who will start 20th on the grid after his five place penalty from the Japanese Grand Prix) Alguersuari and Buemi.
At this stage it looked as though a two lap run was the fastest way on the soft tyre, the faster lap coming on the second lap.
Alonso set the fastest time on the first runs in Q2 ahead of Vettel and Hamilton, with Webber down in 5th. But Webber stuck with the two lap run tactic for his final attempt, while Vettel nailed it in one.
All weekend the teams have been working out whether to run downforce for curves of Sectors 2 and 3 or run low drag for the straights. Judging from the speed trap times, Ferrari opted to run extra downforce as Alonso is slower than both Webber and Vettel on the straight. McLaren went for the straight line speed and were 6km/h faster.
KOREAN GRAND PRIX, Yeongam, Qualifying
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:37.123 1:36.074 1:35.585
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:37.373 1:36.039 1:35.659
3. Alonso Ferrari 1:37.144 1:36.287 1:35.766
4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.113 1:36.197 1:36.062
5. Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.708 1:36.791 1:36.535
6. Massa Ferrari 1:37.515 1:36.169 1:36.571
7. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.123 1:37.064 1:36.731
8. Kubica Renault 1:37.703 1:37.179 1:36.824
9. Schumacher Mercedes 1:37.980 1:37.077 1:36.950
10. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:38.257 1:37.511 1:36.998
11. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:38.115 1:37.620
12. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.429 1:37.643
13. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.171 1:37.715
14. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:38.572 1:37.783
15. Petrov Renault 1:38.174 1:37.799 *
16. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:38.583 1:37.853
17. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:38.621 1:38.594
18. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:38.955
19. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:40.521
20. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:40.748
21. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:41.768
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:42.325
23. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth 1:42.444
24. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:43.283