Vettel grabs pole for Japanese GP, escapes penalty for blocking Alonso
By Berthold Bouman
Sebastian Vettel took pole for the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit this morning, but the German was lucky to escape with an official reprimand from the FIA Stewards after he had been accused of blocking the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso during Q3. The incident took place at the last chicane, after yellow flags were waved due to Kimi Raikkonen’s crash.
After he scored his fourth consecutive pole at Suzuka the 2010 and 2011 World Champion said, “I’m very happy with today’s result. I think we had a very smooth qualifying session, nearly perfect so we couldn’t really ask for more.
“The car felt fantastic from the start; we didn’t have the best start to the weekend, yesterday morning I wasn’t very happy but then we seem to get it better every time we go out. So I’m very pleased with the result and very happy that the car feels fantastic around here.”
Vettel’s team colleague Mark Webber was second, while Kamui Kobayashi made the most out of his home Grand Prix and the Japanese driver will leave from third place on the grid tomorrow.
In Q1 drivers went out on the hard tyres for a first run and it was awesome to watch drivers go through the 130R Curve with DRS completely opened. Kimi Raikkonen was the first to set a time, but the first representative lap time came from his team mate Romain Grosjean, who lapped the circuit in 1m33.328s.
Both Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg had to wait until their car was fixed, Hulkenberg had crashed during Practice 3 and he had to wait until a new gearbox was mounted. Sergio Perez was the first of a number of drivers today to run wide at the Spoon Curve while at the same time Felipe Massa set the benchmark in Q1 with a lap of 1m32.946s.
Maldonado had to wait long before he could leave the Williams garage, and went out on the softs to make sure he would make it into Q2, not surprisingly, he set the second fastest time. With only four minutes to go, Michael Schumacher and Hulkenberg were the last drivers to venture out onto the circuit, Hulkenberg, also on the softs, took over second place from Maldonado, while Schumacher ran wide at the second Degner Curve and had to start a new fast lap.
Schumacher was visibly struggling with his car, but ultimately he scored 16th place, on the hard tyres, and not on the softs like the others. Bruno Senna, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Pedro de la Rosa, Charles Pic, Vitaly Petrov and Narain Karthikeyan did not make it into Q2.
Thus 17 drivers had 15 minutes to qualify for the third and last session. Again a waiting game unfolded, as most drivers stayed in the garage to save tyres for tomorrow’s race. Kobayashi decided to entertain the Japanese crowd, as did Hulkenberg and Vettel and it was the current World Champion who set the fastest time with a lap of 1m31.501s.
With seven minutes to go Schumacher was again the only driver to not have set a time, also Nico Rosberg returned to the garage while in 13th place. Only five minutes to go and now all drivers had returned to the garage, and were waiting for the right moment to make their final run for a position in Q3.
Alonso wasn’t certain he could keep his eighth place and went out to improve his position, this time he ended up on a safe third place. But Felipe Massa, Paul di Resta, Schumacher, Maldonado, Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo and his team mate Jean-Eric Vergne did not make it into Q3.
Both Red Bulls and McLarens were quick out for a first run in Q3, Vettel soon took first place with a time of 1m30.839s, Webber was second and Button third. But Q3 became a shoot-out again, as the order was determined during the very last lap in which drivers had to set their final time. Hamilton at this point was already 1.5 seconds slower than Vettel, while Alonso hadn’t even set a timed lap yet.
The only real threat for Vettel was his team mate Webber, but the Australian wasn’t able to improve his time, as Raikkonen crashed at the famous Spoon Curve, and the yellow flags came out which meant it was difficult to improve lap times. Button did improve his time, but stayed in third position, Kobayashi was fourth for Sauber.
As a result of his team mate’s crash, Grosjean in the second Lotus took fifth place, Perez in the second Sauber was sixth, Alonso seventh and the unlucky Raikkonen eighth. Hamilton, who yesterday said he had the best car ever at Suzuka, was ninth and Hulkenberg was tenth.
The Red Bull front row is a good ‘tonic’
Webber said, “I am happy to be on the front row and I’m really looking forward to a good result tomorrow. For the team, it’s just a great tonic at this point of the championship to
have the cars towards the front again.”
Third place man Button lamented his grid penalty, “It was a good qualifying session — both my Q3 laps felt good. My gearbox penalty means it’s disappointing to be starting so far back, though.” But he was still optimistic about tomorrow’s race, “The championship is a long-shot for me, I know that, but I’d love to do well in front of the Japanese crowd; I’ll be going for the win.”
A lot of grid penalties today, Button, Hulkenberg, Vergne all have grid penalties, while Schumacher has a ten-place grid penalty which was handed to him during the Singapore Grand Prix after he had crashed into the back of the Toro Rosso of Vergne.
The weather in Suzuka should be warm and sunny again tomorrow, and keep your eyes on Kobayashi, who is more determined than ever to finish on the podium, he knows the circuit like no other driver, and could be the surprise of the day tomorrow.
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