Sebastian Vettel has put himself in the box-seat for a fourth consecutive World Championship at the age of 26, with a dominant display in qualifying for the Indian Grand Prix, ahead of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
It is the 43rd pole of the German’s career, his third in a row in India, and the seventh of 2013.
Such is Red Bull’s dominance at this moment that Vettel’s pole time was 7/10ths of a second faster than Rosberg could manage. Both Mercedes went with the soft tyre because they felt from the practice runs that they had better race pace on it than their rivals. The opening stint will be flat out for Rosberg and Hamilton and they will hope that Alonso and Raikkonen lose time behind slower rivals.
Vettel needs to finish fifth tomorrow, should Fernando Alonso win, to take his fourth title. And his task was made significantly easier with Alonso only managing to qualify in eighth place after opting to set his fastest lap on the medium compound tyre with an eye on tomorrow’s race.
The session always looked to be one of split strategies due to the fragility of the soft tyres, which we expect to last only five or six laps in to the race. Therefore, with Vettel in a different league this weekend on softs, his team mate and some other players chose to qualify, and thus start, on the medium tyre.
Mark Webber was the quickest of those, taking fourth place and putting himself in with a good chance of victory tomorrow. He will lead the race following the early stops, assuming their is no trouble around him in to the tight turn one.
Alonso, meanwhile will have a more difficult task in the Grand Prix. He will lose time in the opening laps in traffic and could find himself out of touch with the Red Bull and Mercedes pairs.
Like Red Bull, Ferrari used a split strategy but must have seen the medium tyre choice as the best choice of strategy. They put Felipe Massa on the soft tyre, taking him to fifth place and from their he can assist Alonso by keeping Kimi Raikkonen at bay in sixth.
Raikkonen has struggled with one lap pace during the weekend, often lapping slower than Romain Grosjean. But sixth place will give Lotus confidence ahead of the race in the knowledge that they are more kind to their tyre than Mercedes and should challenge them for the final podium spot.
Grosjean had a session to forget in the sister Lotus. The team felt that he could make his way out of Q1 with two runs on the medium tyre, only for the Frenchman to tumble down the timesheet and end the day in seventeenth place. He has a difficult task tomorrow in order to keep up Lotus’ pressure on Ferrari and Mercedes in the Constructors Championship
The top ten is completed by the McLaren pairing, with Sergio Perez getting the edge over Jenson Button. They also qualified on the medium tyre, but illustrated strong pace throughout the session.
Button topped Q1, the first time McLaren has led any session in 2013.
It should be a fascinating tactical battle tomorrow, Vettel will have work to do and Webber has a real chance of holding on for the win, which he is minded to go for after what happened in Japan.
Meanwhile Mercedes has given itself a good chance to outrun the Lotus and Ferraris to the podium.
INDIAN GRAND PRIX, New Delhi, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m24.119s
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.871s +0.752s
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m24.941s +0.822s
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m25.047s +0.928s
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m25.201s +1.082s
6. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m25.248s +1.129s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m25.334s +1.215s
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m25.826s +1.707s
9. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m26.153s +2.034s
10. Jenson Button McLaren 1m26.487s +2.368s
11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m25.519s +0.951s
12. Paul di Resta Force India 1m25.711s +1.143s
13. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m25.740s +1.172s
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m25.798s +1.230s
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m26.134s +1.566s
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m26.336s +1.768s
17. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m26.577s +1.003s
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m26.842s +1.268s
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m26.970s +1.396s
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m27.105s +1.531s
21. Charles Pic Caterham 1m27.487s +1.913s
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m28.138s +2.564s