The qualifying battle in the midfield proved extremely close once again, with mere tenths separating those runners – from Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso – on the grid for Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix.
After qualifying 12th and 13th respectively, Sauber drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Nick Heidfeld were reportedly pleased with their efforts in Saturday’s qualifying session, with just a tenth of a second separating the pair in Q2.
On the back of his highly entertaining run to seventh place at the last round in Japan, Kobayashi is hopeful of another decent result after extracting the maximum from his Ferrari-powered car yesterday.
“I found the car a little bit nervous but generally okay,” he said after qualifying. “Our tyre strategy was good and for me it was the right decision to go for only one but longer run in Q2. On my fastest lap I wasn’t lucky with traffic, but that can happen. I am looking forward to a good and challenging race tomorrow!”
Heidfeld admitted to battles with tyre graining, but believes that his 13th-placed starting position – importantly on the clean side of the dusty grid – might pay dividends.
It was another tough qualifying session for Force India, who have again cemented their position in the midfield and look set to be overtaken by Williams in the Constructors’ Standings this weekend.
Adrian Sutil’s best efforts in Q2 will see him start from only 14th on the grid, while team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi found himself eliminated in Q1 for the fifth time this season and will start from 17th, up one spot by dint of Vitaly Petrov’s grid penalty.
The Italian blamed tyre graining on his final run, claiming it cost him roughly half a second in pace that would have seen him make the cut into Q2.
“The first two laps of the final run were good and the first two sectors of the third lap were looking really good – I was on for a 1:38.2 at that point,” he said afterwards. “But then the tyres grained so badly I lost a lot of time through the last two corners as the car started to understeer a lot.”
For the third race running Jaime Alguersuari managed to out-qualify Toro Rosso team-mate Sébastien Buemi, but the Faenza squad found itself unable to make significant inroads on its competitors despite comfortably making it through the opening phase of knockout qualifying.
Qualifying 16th and 17th, the pair will each start one place higher due to Vitaly Petrov’s grid penalty, although both drivers can draw comfort from the fact that just two-tenths of a second covered 11th to 16th in Q2.
“I was very happy with the balance of the car and I think I got the most I could out of the Soft tyres. We did a good job in improving the car from yesterday and I think we can therefore expect further improvement in the race,” Alguersuari said after qualifying.
But for Buemi, the 0.7 second gap to his team-mate is rather more worrying, and the Swiss driver was slowest of all in Q2, blaming only himself for the result.
“On my last run we opted to go for just one flying lap – to run with less fuel in the car – but I did not get the best of laps, making a few small mistakes which, put together, cost me a lot of time,” he said ruefully.
With Buemi picking up a point after finishing tenth at Suzuka last fortnight, anything is possible on this virginal circuit, and the team will be hoping to reap the rewards on Sunday.