Mark Webber took his first pole position at Suzuka, the 12th of his career, the first since Korea last year, beating his team mate Sebastian Vettel into second place, with Lewis Hamilton third.
It ended Vettel’s run of pole positions in 2013 and his sequence in Japan – he had been looking for his fifth Suzuka pole in a row.
However Vettel was told at the start of the Q3 session that he had no KERS. Red Bull’s Christian Horner estimated that KERS is worth 4/10ths of a second. The team had changed the KERS system on Vettel’s car after FP3, but the problem remained intermittent. He had no KERS in Q1, had it in Q2, but lost it again for Q3.
It is the first time this season that Webber has outqualified his team mate. Webber was in a new chassis this weekend, after his fire and accident damage in Korea.
“It’s a great track. It was pretty good Sebastian had a problem, so it’s a bit of a hollow pole position because he still did a phenomenal lap, but you have to take your opportunities when you can,” said Webber. “It’s a very nice farewell for me to have pole on my last time at Suzuka. I’ll never forget sector one today.”
Vettel played down his issues, “Congratulations to Mark, he did a very good lap. We did have an issue in qualifying, but I’m not a big fan of saying, ‘If we’d had this or that.’ We were P2 today.”
It was Renault’s 209th pole position as an engine supplier, a new record in F1.
The pace was fast, the change of wind direction was significant. There was a tail wind on the straights, which was a headwind through the esses in the first part of the lap, which made the lap times much quicker than on Friday.
Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg maintained their strong run of form with fourth and seventh places respectively.
In Q1, Webber set the pace, with Hamilton and Alonso also looking quick on the harder tyres. The Lotus drivers were obliged to take a set of mediums, as were the McLarens, Saubers and Force Indias.
Jean Eric Vergne brought out a red flag three minutes from the end of the session, due to a bizarre brake fire at the rear. A change of wind direction meant that teams weren’t clear on what the cut off time would be. After the red flag, Rosberg felt he needed to use a set of mediums to be sure, lying 11th as he was after his hard tyre run.
In the ensuing last minute dash, Grosjean went fastest with a very impressive lap on hard tyres ahead of Massa, on mediums, while Sutil was eliminated. After accident damage in FP3 and a gearbox change he will move back a further five places from the 17th place he qualified in.
Both Williams cars made it into Q2, meanwhile Marussia’s Max Chilton did well to outqualify his team mate and both Caterhams. “Since the August break my performance has really improved,” said Chilton.
Both Red Bulls, Hamilton and Alonso got through without using a set of medium tyres.
In Q2 Alonso continued to find good pace from the Ferrari, to edge out Hamilton, while the Lotus pair looked very quick on the hard tyres in the initial runs.
Vettel left it late and did a stunning lap 1m 31.2s, over half a second faster than Alonso’s Ferrari, while Webber was 2/10ths slower than his team mate. Grosjean got very close, just 4/100ths off Webber’s time.
Perez, Di Resta, Bottas, Gutierrez, Maldonado, Ricciardo we all eliminated in Q2.
In Q3, Vettel had no KERS and also made a mistake in Spoon Curve. Webber managed to beat his first run time by 4/10ths. Alonso was in third almost a second off Webber’s pace.
Raikkonen, Massa, Rosberg and Grosjean did only one run in Q3, also Button and Hulkenberg.
In the final runs Vettel wasn’t able to beat Webber’s time, while Hamilton managed to edge out Grosjean. Felipe Massa had only one run in Q3, compared to two runs for Alonso, but the Brazilian came out on top once again. Alonso starts 8th, as Rosberg and Hulkenberg both got ahead of him.
This could prove a significant development for Massa, who is on the look out for a new team after being dropped by Ferrari.
Meanwhile the man who replaces him, Kimi Raikkonen, again wasn’t able to peak in qualifying, ending up 9th, three tenths of a second behind team mate Grosjean.
Charles Pic, already subject to a 10 place grid penalty before the event, became the first driver in F1 history to have a drive thru penalty imposed on him before the race. Stewards were angered that he had ignored a red light in the pit lane for the second time and imposed the penalty, which means that he will have to drive through the pits in the first five laps of the race.
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m30.915s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m31.089s +0.174s
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m31.253s +0.338s
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m31.365s +0.450s
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m31.378s +0.463s
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m31.397s +0.482s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m31.644s +0.729s
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m31.665s +0.750s
9. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m31.684s +0.769s
10. Jenson Button McLaren 1m31.827s +0.912s
11. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m31.989s +0.699s
12. Paul di Resta Force India 1m31.992s +0.702s
13. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m32.013s +0.723s
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m32.063s +0.773s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m32.093s +0.803s
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m32.485s +1.195s
17. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m32.890s +1.066s * 5 place penalty to take
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m33.357s +1.533s
19. Max Chilton Marussia 1m34.320s +2.496s
20. Charles Pic Caterham 1m34.556s +2.732s * 10 place penalty to take
21. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m34.879s +3.055s
22. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m34.958s +3.134s * 10 place penalty to take