As expected, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber have provided an all Red Bull front row – the team’s first since the Hungarian Grand Prix – with a truly dominant performance in this morning’s delayed qualifying session for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Vettel lapped fastest in all three phases of qualifying, and looks the short-odds favourite to defend his 2009 race victory on a circuit that seems truly suited to the Red Bull’s ability to deal with high-speed corners.
In just the second time in F1 history that qualifying has been delayed until race day, Vettel posted a provisional pole lap time of 1:30.792, which he bettered by just seven thousandths of a second on his final flying lap, while team-mate Mark Webber earned his best qualifying result at Suzuka, lapping just 0.078 seconds slower on his best effort.
Despite losing a considerable amount of track running due to his opening practice session smash, Lewis Hamilton finished a hugely impressive third-fastest, although he will start from eighth on the grid due to a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox before qualifying.
Robert Kubica will therefore start from the better side of the second row, after the Pole hustled his Renault around Suzuka’s sweeps with an equally scintillating piece of driving, which was enough to bump Fernando Alonso back to fifth-quickest in the Q3 session.
Alonso was Ferrari’s sole representative in the top-ten shoot-out, with team-mate Felipe Massa unable to deliver a fast enough lap to make it beyond Q2. The Brazilian – who started from pole position here in 2006 – will start from a disappointing 12th for this afternoon’s race.
With the majority of the Q3 runners opting for the softer-compound Bridgestone tyres, Jenson Button was the lone ranger to elect to start on the harder-compound tyres later today, and the decision of the defending World Champion could prove masterful if this works out for him in the 53-lap race. He will start from an effective fifth place on the grid after Hamilton is demoted.
Completing the top ten were the two Mercedes GP cars sandwiching the two Williams runners, with Nico Rosberg and Rubens Barrichello each proving quicker than their respective team-mates, Michael Schumacher and Nico Hülkenberg.
Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld went some way to redeem himself after a disappointing return appearance at last fortnight’s race in in Singapore, oh-so-nearly making it into the top-ten shoot-out. The German veteran comfortably out-paced team-mate Kamui Kobayashi, who threw away his chances of a possible Q3 appearance when he fluffed it under braking for the Casio chicane on his final hot-lap attempt.
Two teams who have disappointed – certainly based on historic form at high-speed circuits or in previous events at Suzuka – were Toro Rosso and Force India, who occupied positions 15 through 18 on the grid. Jaime Alguersuari will find himself sandwiched on the grid by Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi, while Sébastien Buemi found himself eliminated in Q1 for the first time this season, having struggled when his floor worked loose.
Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen will line up ahead of the two Virgins – with Lucas di Grassi out-qualifying Timo Glock for just the second time this season – and the two HRTs of Bruno Senna and Sakon Yamamoto on the back row.
2010 Japanese GP Qualifying Times:
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing||1:32.035||1:31.184||1:30.785|
|2.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing||1:32.476||1:31.241||1:30.853|
|7.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP||1:32.238||1:31.886||1:31.494|
|10.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP||1:32.513||1:32.073||1:31.846|
|15.||Adrian Sutil||Force India||1:32.186||1:32.659|
|16.||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso||1:32.471||1:32.071|
|17.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||Force India||1:32.216||1:32.154|
|18.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso||1:32.568|
|21.||Lucas di Grassi||Virgin Racing||1:36.265|
|22.||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing||1:36.332|
* Denotes 5-place grid penalty to be imposed for gearbox change