Sebastian Vettel overcame a mistake on his first run in the final part of qualifying to take pole position for the Indian Grand Prix ahead of Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton.
Although a predictable result, it was achieved with difficulty; Vettel had a worrying moment when he made a mistake on his first lap in Q3 after, running wide on the in-field section. At this stage Webber help provisional pole with the fastest time of the weekend. Vettel was able to keep his cool and pip his team mate to pole by just 5/100ths of a second, but he had to be careful, knowing that another mistake would be a disaster.
It is the 35th pole of Vettel’s career and with Fernando Alonso beginning the race in fifth it offers him a great opportunity to extend his six point World Championship lead. A win tomorrow would make it four consecutive victories for the first time in his career.
It is also the first time that Red Bull have had three consecutive front-row lockouts, illustrating their dominance at this important stage of the season.
However there is hope for the opposition; the race pace of McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus is similar to Red Bull and the Bulls are really vulnerable on the straights in the opening couple of laps. Vettel has the second slowest straight-line speed at 311km/h, compared to 321 for the Ferrari and 318 for the McLaren. Add in DRS effect and they have a headache if they can’t get free of the one second DRS detection zone.
The use of KERS at the start and DRS after lap 2 could open a chance for Hamilton, Button or Alonso to attack and as Hamilton pointed out this afternoon, he has nothing to lose as he is 62 points behind Vettel in the championship.
Alonso meanwhile has said that he feels he is working with very fine margins,
“It is not so easy to fight, especially on Saturday, but on Sunday we are normally more competitive,” he said. “Tomorrow we need to overtake McLaren as soon as possible and put pressure on Red Bull to wait for a little mistake, a pit stop problem, reliability or something. If they can start, go away and have an easy race, that’s the worst news for us.”
Strategy wise the tyres show little degradation or wear and so there will be a number of cars trying one stop strategies tomorrow; the tyre choice is quite conservative for this weekend.
Vettel continued his Free Practice form during qualifying and topped every session, barring a late Q1 run from nowhere by Pastor Maldonado on the option tyre. He was able to take just one run in the first two stages of qualifying, allowing for two runs in the final shoot out. It was also interesting to note that Vettel completed just eight laps in the first two stages of qualifying, compared to sixteen for Hamilton and twenty-one for Nico Rosberg.
The front three rows for tomorrow’s Grand Prix are all shared by team mates; Red Bull then McLaren then Ferrari, with Jenson Button joining Hamilton on the second row and Alonso beating Felipe Massa in to fifth place. Both McLaren and Ferrari showed strong pace in their longer fuel runs during Free Practice and Vettel will need to make a characteristically strong first stint to escape those behind.
“I think we had a little bit of a surprise on Friday, in terms of long runs. Everyone was quite competitive and their tyres seemed to last a long time; we will see what that means for strategy tomorrow,” said Vettel about his chances for tomorrow.
It was a very close session throughout, but particularly in Q3 as the top six were covered by 6/10ths of a second. The McLaren and Ferrari duos both seemed to extract the most out of their machinery and tomorrow’s race could see McLaren focussing their attention on beating the Prancing Horses to regain second place in the Constructor’s Championship.
Vettel was once again the man to catch in Q2 and he and team mate Webber needed just one option tyre run to make their way in to the top ten shootout. Throughout the first two stages of qualifying the World Championship leader completed just eight laps, contrary to the average of sixteen laps between the other nine cars that made it in to the final shoot out.
Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez will fill the fourth row as they both got the better of their team mates and are looking strong for a good result tomorrow. The Lotus has shown good race pace all weekend and Raikkonen will once again look to gain a few places tomorrow by making his tyres last and keeping out of trouble. The Sauber had not looked at all competitive during the weekend and with Kamui Kobayashi qualifying in seventeenth place Perez’s lap became all the more impressive, whilst heaping pressure on his team mates future.
The top ten is completed by Maldonado and Rosberg, with the latter opting not to set a time in the final part of qualifying as he has just one set of the option tyre available left for the race tomorrow.
The Williams looks competitive here; Maldonado’s team mate Bruno Senna, has been quick all weekend and it looked like he could have caused an upset further up the grid and got a result which would help his chances of retaining his seat for 2013. However, he slumped to a disappointing 13th in Q2, while Maldonado was ninth, four tenths faster than the Brazilian.
A notably poor session occurred for Paul Di Resta who exited in Q2 and sixteenth place after being 6/10ths slower than Nico Hulkenberg. With a drive at Sauber looking increasingly likely, the difference between the Force India drivers today could be a big indicator as to who would be the preferred choice.
Finally, both HRT drivers beat the Marussia of Charles Pic today, the Frenchman finding himself one second slower than Timo Glock.
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]
INDIAN GRAND PRIX, Buddh International Circuit, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m25.283
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m25.327 + 0.044
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m25.544 + 0.261
4. Jenson Button McLaren 1m25.659 + 0.376
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m25.773 + 0.490
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m25.857 + 0.574
7. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m26.236 + 0.953
8. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m26.360 + 1.077
9. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m26.713 + 1.430
10. Nico Rosberg Mercedes no time
11. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m26.136s + 0.701
12. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m26.241s + 0.806
13. Bruno Senna Williams 1m26.331s + 0.896
14. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m26.574s + 1.139
15. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m26.777s + 1.342
16. Paul di Resta Force India 1m26.989s + 1.554
17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m27.219s + 1.784
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m27.525s + 1.477
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m28.756s + 2.708
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m29.500s + 3.452
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m29.613s + 3.565
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m30.592s + 4.544
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m30.593s + 4.545
24. Charles Pic Marussia 1m30.662s + 4.614