While a Red Bull Racing front-row lockout was expected, few would have predicted that the pole-winner for the Korean Grand Prix would have been Mark Webber. The Australian delivered a stunning lap when it counted to pip team-mate Sebastian Vettel to top spot by a scant seven-hundredths of a second.
Vettel had been comfortably quickest in the opening sessions and looked on course for another qualifying rout until the final seconds of the top-ten shootout. Webber pulled out everything to deliver three perfect sectors of the five-kilometre Yeongyam circuit, improving his best lap time by half a second to claim top spot and give the team’s engine supplier, Renault, its 200th Formula 1 pole.
Vettel tried to respond, but a miscommunication with his engineers yielded a less-than-ideal first sector split, and it meant that he was unable to improve on his first flying lap-time set earlier in the session.
Webber’s result was all the more impressive given the problems he faced in today’s earlier practice session, and the result marked his first genuine pole position – having inherited pole at Monaco – of the 2012 season.
Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were unable to challenge the Red Bulls, and both will start from the second row of the grid. Hamilton, in particular, was lucky to make it beyond Q1, with the McLaren team electing not to fit a set of super-soft tyres to his car. But for a botched lap by Bruno Senna, and the Englishman would have found himself eliminated at the first hurdle.
Lotus showed steadily improving form with their unique Coanda exhaust layout, with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean claiming fifth and seventh, respectively, sandwiching Felipe Massa on the grid.
The top ten was completed by a trio of Germans, with Nico Hulkenberg getting his Force India ahead of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes entries in Q3.
Qualifying itself produced little in the way of major upsets, although Jenson Button proved the exception when he failed to make the Q3 cut by just 0.005 seconds, having to back off on his final flying lap when yellow flags were unfurled after Daniel Ricciardo was forced to park his Toro Rosso just off the racing line when it struck mechanical troubles.
The closeness of the midfield presented fans with another closely-fought affair in Q2, and there were several drivers who had plenty of grounds to come up with their own hard luck story as to why they failed to make the final round of ten drivers. From Jenson Button in eleventh down to Pastor Maldonado in fifteenth, all missed out on Q3 by less than three-tenths of a second.
As usual, the entries from Caterham, Marussia and HRT formed a Noah’s Ark formation on the timing screens and were again eliminated at the first hurdle. Interestingly, both Vitaly Petrov and Charles Pic managed to outperform their more established team-mates when it counted, qualifying 19th and 21st respectively, although the latter will take a grid penalty for an engine change.
Narain Karthikeyan will have to rely on the discretion of the FIA Stewards panel to be allowed to take the grid for tomorrow’s race after he failed to post a time during the opening phase of qualifying. The Indian driver’s HRT suffered a major brake failure at the end of the long back straight, and he was fortunate not to collect Nico Hulkenberg as he skidded helplessly into the Turn 3 run-off.
2012 Korean Formula 1 Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:
|1.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:37.242|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:37.316||+ 0.074|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:37.469||+ 0.227|
|4.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:37.534||+ 0.292|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:37.625||+ 0.383|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:37.884||+ 0.642|
|7.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:37.934||+ 0.692|
|8.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:38.266||+ 1.024|
|9.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:38.361||+ 1.119|
|10.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:38.513||+ 1.271|
|Q2 Cut-Off – 1:38.436||Time||Gap|
|11.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:38.441||+ 0.005|
|12.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:38.460||+ 0.019|
|13.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:38.594||+ 0.153|
|14.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:38.643||+ 0.202|
|15.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||1:38.725||+ 0.284|
|16.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:39.084||+ 0.643|
|17.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:39.340||+ 0.889|
|Q1 Cut-Off – 1:39.180||Time||Gap|
|18.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||1:39.443||+ 0.263|
|19.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||1:40.207||+ 1.027|
|20.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||1:40.333||+ 1.153|
|21.||Charles Pic*||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:41.317||+ 2.137|
|22.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:41.371||+ 2.191|
|23.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:42.881||+ 3.701|
|107% Cut-Off – 1:45.082||Time||Gap|
|DNQ.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||no time|
* Denotes ten-place grid penalty will be imposed for exceeding his yearly allocation of eight engines