He took pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix standing in the Red Bull garage, biting his nails, as his rivals scorched around the Marina Bay Circuit. But even when he isn’t on the circuit, Sebastian Vettel still stays ahead.
The championship leader opted not to do a final run in qualifying this evening, believing that his lap of 1m 42.841 would be enough, but fastest sector times from team mate Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean made him sweat. In the end, Rosberg missed out by 9/100ths of a second and Grosjean was 12/100ths only off Rosberg in third.
It is Vettel’s fifth pole of 2013, and the 41st of his career. And the even better news for him is that his only title rival Fernando Alonso, was only seventh in the updated Ferrari, outqualified by his team mate Felipe Massa for the second race in succession and the fifth time in 13 races.
In a typically frantic session around the twenty-three cornered Marina Bay circuit, Red Bull went about their business in the usual manner, completing only single runs in the early phases of qualifying before an all-out assault in the top ten shoot out.
But for Vettel, only a single run was necessary in the final ten minutes as a first flying lap saw him hold provisional pole by 6/10ths of a second. His confidence was tested as others found significant gains on their late laps.
Opinion is divided on how best to plan strategy for the race; Pirelli believe the supersoft tyre will be the favourite because of its pace advantage and Vettel is well placed with a new set of the tyres available from not running again in Q3.
Others feel that the medium will feature in two stints after the initial phase on the supersofts. Two stops looks like the way to go.
Rosberg was on pole in Monaco and this result gives him his first front-row start since his victory at the British Grand Prix. He has had the upper hand over his team mate this weekend. Lewis Hamilton finished fifth behind the Red Bull of Mark Webber.
Grosjean pipped Mark Webber to lead the second-row, after an impressive display from the Frenchman. He was bouncing back from technical issues yesterday which restricted his running. Today it was Kimi Raikkonen who struggled, the Finn hurting his back and ending up only 13th on the grid.
Grosjean’s result tomorrow will be key for Lotus’ hopes in the Constructor’s Championship. He is also driving like a man who wants to lead this Lotus team next year when Raikkonen moves on.
Webber, in fourth and starting on the dirty side of the track, looked to be Vettel’s main challenger for pole after ending Q2 second to his team mate. But his gain of 6/10ths from Q2 to Q3 could not match the 9/10ths found by Rosberg and Grosjean. Webber was faster than Vettel on the medium tyre early on, but once they went to supersofts Vettel had in excess of 6/10ths over him.
Lewis Hamilton also struggled to find the necessary pace at the business end of the session but importantly starts on the clean side of the grid. He is joined by the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, who was able to beat Fernando Alonso for two consecutive qualifying sessions. Alonso used the new front wing on the Ferrari, while Massa went with the old one.
Alonso begins the race in seventh place alongside a satisfied Jenson Button, with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutierrez completing the top ten.
Gutierrez out-qualified the sister Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg for the first time in his Formula One career.
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX, Singapore, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m42.841s
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m42.932s +0.091s
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m43.058s +0.217s
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m43.152s +0.311s
5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m43.254s +0.413s
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m43.890s +1.049s
7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m43.938s +1.097s
8. Jenson Button McLaren 1m44.282s +1.441s
9. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m44.439s +1.598s
10. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber No time set
11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m44.555s +1.650s
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m44.588s +1.683s
13. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m44.658s +1.753s
14. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m44.752s +1.847s
15. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m45.185s +2.280s
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m45.388s +2.483s
17. Paul di Resta Force India 1m46.121s +1.925s
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m46.619s +2.423s
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1m48.111s +3.915s
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m48.320s +4.124s
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m48.830s +4.634s
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m48.930s +4.734s