So it’s official: Sebastian Vettel does make mistakes – just not when the championship is still up for grabs.
With just three races to drive in his Formula One career, Mark Webber produced a sensational lap to snatch a popular pole position from Vettel at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Nico Rosberg completing the top three.
Prior to this race Vettel had taken pole here twice as had Lewis Hamilton, but both hit trouble today; Vettel made a mistake at the decisive moment in Q3 and opened the door to Webber. Vettel messed up the first corner, while Hamilton’s was the more serious as he spun the car when a rear suspension part broke and he got stranded out on track.
He was on target to challenge for pole at the time, which made it all the more frustrating.
It is the 13th pole of Webber’s career, equalling Jack Brabham’s record for poles from an Australian and offers him a great chance to win a race before he signs off his F1 career later this month.
Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen, who had qualified 5th was disqualified for failing a deflection test on the floor of his car for the second time this season. He will be allowed to start from the back of the grid.
In a session that would only be called by a brave man, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus all threatened at different stages throughout the session. Nico Rosberg had topped Q2 by a comfortable margin using a set of scrubbed soft tyres from Q1 and gave the impression of a first Mercedes pole since the Hungarian GP in August.
But Q3 came towards Red Bull as Vettel set a 1:40.0, a lap that seemed unbeatable at this stage. At this point Webber sat in fourth behind the Mercedes pair and would have hoped to simply join Vettel on the front-row.
However, with a quick change to the front-wing Webber drove a smooth first and second sector before throwing his RB9 around the twist sector three. This puts him in with a good chance of victory tomorrow – he certainly has nothing else to assist the team with so we could see a good battle between the Red Bull pair.
Vettel could not improve sufficiently upon his opening lap in Q3 but still held a 4/10ths of a second buffer over Rosberg.
Rosberg admitted he was pleased to “be the best of the rest” with his third place. He had a very good session to always be near the top but had nothing to threaten the Red Bulls with.
He shares the second row with team mate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton sat in third follwoing the first runs in Q3 but was forced down as Webber improved. In fourth, Hamilton spun in the final sector and came to a halt without finishing a second run.
Today’s qualifying result is a good one for Mercedes in light of their Constructors’ table competitors having a troubled session.
Romain Grosjean could only manage seventh, behind an ever-improving Nico Hulkenberg who did no harm to his 2014 possibilities.
Grosjean had been tipped as a threat to pole position prior to the session but had a second sector tim 6/10ths slower than Webber and Vettel.
It was a worse story for Ferrari and in particular Fernando Alonso. He was out-qualified by Felipe Massa for the fifth time in six races and did not even make it in to Q3, as Massa qualified eighth.
The top ten was completed by two strong performances from Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo.
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, Yas Marina, Qualifying
1. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m39.957s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m40.075s +0.118s
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m40.419s +0.462s
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m40.501s +0.544s
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m40.542s +0.585s
6. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m40.576s +0.619s
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m40.997s +1.040s
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m41.015s +1.058s
9. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m41.068s +1.111s
10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m41.111s +1.154s
11. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m41.093s +0.620s
12. Paul di Resta Force India 1m41.133s +0.660s
13. Jenson Button McLaren 1m41.200s +0.727s
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m41.279s +0.806s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m41.395s +0.922s
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m41.447s +0.974s
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m41.999s +1.306s
18. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m42.051s +1.358s
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m43.252s +2.559s
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m43.398s +2.705s
21. Charles Pic Caterham 1m43.528s +2.835s
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m44.198s +3.505s