Mark Webber took pole position for the Korean Grand Prix with a strong final lap, bouncing back from an engine software problem in final practice to seal an impressive pole position and beat his team mate by 7/100ths of a second.
Webber spent time with the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt earlier this week and the golden glow certainly seems to have rubbed off on the Australian, who was delighted with his lap.
It’s the 36 year old’s second pole of the season, but the first he has won for himself on the track; he inherited the pole in Monaco from Schumacher thanks to a steward’s penalty. The freshly updated Red Bull car has had the edge all weekend, but in the end the gaps back to Hamilton at 2/10ths and to Alonso at 3/10ths were not as big as perhaps expected.
Also worth noting is that Webber had the pole position without setting the fastest time in any of the three sectors, it was just a very fast and consistent lap.
Webber beat Vettel for pace today, but his team mate, who had dominated practice and qualifying up to that point, had a poor first sector when it mattered.
Vettel misread what Felipe Massa was doing in the final sector as he came through to start his final lap; whatever effect it had on Vettel, it meant that his first sector time was down on his first run and that was enough to lose the initiative,
“Why didn’t you tell me about Massa?” an agitated Vettel asked over the radio on the slow down lap.
It was a second Red Bull front row lock out in a row after Japan, Webber’s pole was the 11th of his career and it will make for an interesting race, as when Webber starts at the front he generally does pretty well in the race.
“It was a reasonable lap, there have been few that have been nip and tuck this year,”said Webber. “We have a pretty handy car around here for sure. The hard work is paying off. We had a software glitch in practice so a little bit on the back foot going into qualifying.”
Red Bull showed that it had good performance on the long runs in practice, so it will be quite tough for the McLarens and Ferraris to find a way to get ahead of them on Sunday, while the in house battle at Red Bull will be interesting with Vettel clearly well ahead of Webber in the championship.
For example, if Webber were to win the race with Vettel second, then Alonso can retain his championship lead by one point if he beats Hamilton to the podium. The intrigue will be over the Red Bull tactics; they do not tend to employ team orders when both drivers have a shot at the championship, but Webber is 60 points behind Alonso, so his chances are far less than Vettel’s. Nevertheless a win tomorrow would certainly help towards redressing that.
The temperature dropped a little before the start of qualifying, as cloud cover grew heavier.
In Q1 Narain Karthikeyan had a scary moment when he felt his brakes go away and he had a lurid spin off the track.
Massa and Raikkonen set the early pace on the soft tyres, then Vettel came in and smashed their time by six tenths. Vettel did the time on the third lap on the tyre, Raikkonen on the fifth, as the drivers found the best way to get the tyres to work.
Times were slower than in 2011, where the fastest in Q1 was 1m 37.5 and in the 1m 35s in Q2 and Q3.
Vettel and Webber were the fastest, Fernando Alonso was forced to use a set of supersoft tyres, where Felipe Massa wasn’t and yet he still could only manage 16th place, with Lewis Hamilton flirting with danger in 17th, refusing to rely on supersoft tyres.
Bruno Senna was unable to get it together and was eliminated, along with Petrov, who outpaced his team mate Kovalainen. Charles Pic beat his team mate Glock at Marussia.
In Q2 the drivers all moved to the supersoft tyre and Vettel was again straight onto the top, with Alonso and Hamilton getting it together too.
In the final part of the session Daniel Ricciardo stopped on track in the final sector with a gearbox issue, bringing out yellow flags out, as Raikkonen had done in qualifying in Japan.
Many drivers improved during this time, but not Jenson Button, who was 11th. Paul di Resta was 2/10ths slower than Hulkenberg and was eliminated, while team mate Nico Hulkenberg got through. Also eliminated in Q2 were Perez, Kobayashi, Maldonado, Ricciardo and Vergne.
It means that Button will start alongside his team mate for next year, Sergio Perez on the grid.
In Q3 Vettel was fastest, with Alonso second ahead of Webber, Massa and Hamilton, with Raikkonen the faster of the Lotus pair. The Mercedes pair and Hulkenberg meanwhile went out but pitted without setting a time.
In the final runs, Webber did a good lap, while Vettel lost time in the first sector and this swung the advantage to Webber.
Hamilton and Alonso both did good laps for third and fourth places, ahead of Raikkonen who was less than 1/10th of a second behind the Ferrari and only 0.38s behind the pole man in the updated Lotus.
KOREAN GRAND PRIX, YEONGAM, Qualifying
1. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m37.242s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m37.316s + 0.074
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m37.469s + 0.227
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.534s + 0.292
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m37.625s + 0.383
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m37.884s + 0.642
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m37.934s + 0.692
8. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m38.266s + 1.024
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.361s + 1.119
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.513s + 1.271
11. Jenson Button McLaren 1m38.441s + 0.674
12. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m38.460s + 0.693
13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m38.594s + 0.827
14. Paul di Resta Force India 1m38.643s + 0.876
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m38.725s + 0.958
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m39.084s + 1.317
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m39.340s + 1.573
18. Bruno Senna Williams 1m39.443s + 1.235
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m40.207s + 1.999
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m40.333s + 2.125
21. Charles Pic Marussia 1m41.317s + 3.109
22. Timo Glock Marussia 1m41.371s + 3.163
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m42.881s + 4.673
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT no time