There was a big round of applause in the Suzuka parc ferme as Mark Webber emerged from his Red Bull after claiming pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix, and for the first time in a while, trumping teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Championship leader Vettel’s problems began in FP3 when he missed the final, Option tyre runs of the session due to a problem with his car’s energy recovery system.
The problem seemed to have been cured as Vettel then sailed through the opening segments of qualifying with ease, ending Q2 at the top of timesheet just over two tenths ahead of Webber.
In Q3, however, he ran into trouble. Keen to stake his claim to a fifth consecutive Japanese Grand Prix pole position, Vettel was first out on track in the top-10 shootout. However, midway through his lap his race engineer got on the radio to tell him “KERS shutdown”. The problem led to his first run being over three tenths of a second slower than Webber’s, the deficit excacerbated by a mistake at the exit of Spoon corner.
In the second run, there were no driver errors as Vettel set session-best times in the first and third sectors but a conservative middle sector saw him miss out on pole for the first time since the Belgian Grand Prix.
Webber meanwhile, was continuing the good form he has shown all weekend. His first run in Q3 netted him a time of 1:30.975 and at that point he was the only driver to record a sub-1m31s lap.
He then shaved eight hundredths of a second off that time to land his first front-of-grid start since last year’s Korean Grand Prix.
“The laps weren’t too bad to be honest,” he said of the 12th pole position of his career. “You always want a little bit more here and there but in general it was pretty good. Sebastian had a problem in qualifying, so a little bit of a hollow pole position if you like, but I’m happy to be on pole. You’ve got to grab the opportunities when you can and still put the laps in. It’s a very nice farewell for me to have pole here on my last attempt at Suzuka, a really phenomenal circuit. I’ll never forget the first sector today.”
Vettel, meanwhile, said that he was happy with his second place. “We did have an issue in qualifying but I’m not a big fan of ‘without this, with this, if this’,” he said. “It’s always unknown. As a fact, we are P2. So, happy, obviously, with the result. Front row for the team, which is great.”
With the Red Bulls locking out the front row, third place went to Lewis Hamilton, who admitted that third on the grid is a good result against his Red Bull rivals who he said have “had a better package for a long time now”.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “Realistically it was difficult, or almost impossible, to finish ahead of these guys. They’ve had a much better package generally for a long, long time but I think we’ve come a long way and to be as close as we are, I think, is a huge compliment to the team.
“The car was feeling good,” he added. “My car felt awesome so I can’t imagine how it felt for them – and congratulations to Mark. I’m looking forward to racing [against] them tomorrow.”
Fourth place went to Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, the fifth time in sixth races that the Frenchman has out-qualified team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who will line up in ninth place tomorrow.
Felipe Massa, meanwhile, beat team-mate Fernando Alonso for the sixth time this season. The Brazilian will line up fifth on the grid, in front of Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg. Alonso will start from eighth position, ahead of Raikkonen and 10th-placed Jenson Button.
Elsewhere, in Q1, Jean-Eric Vergne was forced to pull over at the side of the track with smoke and flames billowing out from the back of his Toro Rosso, an incident that briefly brought out the red flags.
“I thought I had an engine problem, but then I realised the rear brakes were stuck,” he said afterwards. “I tried to brake and there was nothing in the pedal, then I saw the fire and had to stop the car.
“The team will have a lot of work to do tonight, because it took quite a while for the fire to be [put] out,” he added. “Hopefully the main components are undamaged, the engine and gearbox, but there will be many things to change.” (Reuters)
Subbed by AJN.
Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying – Saturday 12 October 2013
|1||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:32.271||1:31.513||1:30.915||13|
|2||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:32.397||1:31.290||1:31.089||13|
|12||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:32.286||1:31.992||15|
|17||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:32.890||10|
|21||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:34.879|
|Q1 107% Time||1:38.251|
Note – Bianchi, Pic have 10-place grid penalties after accumulating three stewards’ reprimands. Sutil has 5-place penalty for gearbox change