Sebastian Vettel took pole position for a Korean Grand Prix in an anticlimactic qualifying session, by two tenths of a second ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The German set the pole lap on his first run and was able to cruise back to the pits on the second run, knowing that the Mercedes cars had not beaten him.
It was the 42nd pole position of his career, his 6th of the season and the third race in a row. The threat from the Mercedes was there, but Vettel had it all under control with a lap which got the maximum out of the car.
“I had a very good lap on my first attempt and I knew it would be difficult to beat it,” said Vettel. “As expected Mercedes was strong, especially in the middle sector. We are good on the straights, which is good for the race, so I think we have the balance right and we can be happy with what we have achieved.”
Hamilton starts the race on the front row alongside Vettel for the fifth time this season, saying that he felt he had got the most from the car. He also thinks he can challenge Vettel on the opening lap tomorrow. The key to beating Vettel is to stop him getting away at the start.
Mark Webber qualified third, but with the ten place penalty he will start 13th. Webber ran a low downforce set up and a longer seventh gear, to allow him to pass cars in tomorrow’s race.
This promotes Romain Grosjean to third. Lotus has brought the longer wheelbase car to Yeongam, which should be stronger in the race, than in qualifying. Raikkonen had only one new set of tyres for Q3 and made a mistake. He ended up 10th on the grid, the fourth time in six races he has been outqualified by Grosjean.
It was clear in the final sector that the Ferrari was lacking rear end downforce in comparison with the Red Bulls and Mercedes. Alonso qualified 8/10ths of a second off the pace.
Vettel had set the pace in the final practice session, ahead of team mate Webber and then the two Mercedes, giving an early indication of form.
The performance gap between the medium and supersoft tyres was just under a second for most teams, so it was interesting to see which drivers felt the need to use supersoft in the Q1 session.
Hamilton set the early pace in Q1 on mediums ahead of Rosberg, Alonso and Raikkonen. The Red Bulls and Grosjean left it late, until eight minutes from the end, to come out of the pits, on the medium tyre.
Estaban Gutierrez found 1.3 seconds on the supersoft and that frightened a few of the front runners into using a set of super-softs. The predicted cut off was 1m 38.8s, just a tenth more than more than Gutierrez managed.
Di Resta ran into trouble, being held up by Jules Bianchi’s Marussia in the blind corners of the final sector. He didn’t get eliminated however, as the two Williams were too slow and were both eliminated, for the fourth time this season, along with the Caterhams and Marussia. Bianchi was given a three place penalty and a reprimand for not letting Di Resta through, as the Frenchman had been buidling up to a hot lap at the time. Kimi Raikkonen set the pace on supersofts.
In Q2 most people did their first run on used supersofts, Hamilton and the Red Bulls took their first set of supersofts. Hamilton set the pace straight away on 1m 37.824s, two tenths ahead of Rosberg.
The fastest five cars, the Red Bulls and Mercedes and Grosjean, didn’t do a final run in Q2, but of the drivers who did, both McLarens were not fast enough as both Saubers made it through, with Hulkenberg in fourth place.
The two Toro Rossos, Force Indias and McLarens were eliminated. Button missed the cut by 0.038s. He was held up by Raikkonen on an in lap. Vettel was the fastest car in Q2.
In Q3, several cars went straight out, but Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen and the Saubers waited.
In the first runs, Webber was ahead of Hamilton and Rosberg, while Vettel was almost three tenths of a second faster than Webber with a terrific final sector of the lap, managing to squeeze more from the supersofts in that final sector.
On the final runs, Vettel was the last car to go out. Raikkonen was on used tyres, everyone else had a new set of supersofts.
Webber went straight into the pits, knowing that only Hamilton had beaten him, so he would be 13th with his ten place penalty.
Vettel and Hamilton took the front row for the fifth time this season. A confident Romain Grosjean moves up to third place.
The forecast for tomorrow continues to suggest that there will be rain around, although it may be more in the morning than the afternoon when the race starts.
With 150 points available from the remaining six races, three more wins for Vettel will give him the title for the fourth time, regardless of what his rival Alonso does.
KOREAN GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m37.202s
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m37.420s +0.218s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m37.464s +0.262s
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m37.531s +0.329s
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m37.679s +0.477s
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m38.038s +0.836s
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.223s +1.021s
8. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m38.237s +1.035s
9. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m38.405s +1.203s
10. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m38.822s +1.620s
11. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m38.362s +0.793s
12. Jenson Button McLaren 1m38.365s +0.796s
13. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m38.417s +0.848s
14. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m38.431s +0.862s
15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m38.718s +1.149s
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m38.781s +1.212s
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m39.470s +1.129s
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m39.987s +1.646s
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1m40.864s +2.523s
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m40.871s +2.530s
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m41.169s +2.828s
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m41.322s +2.981s