Mark Webber will start from pole position at tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix after posting the fastest lap-time in an drama-filled qualifying session at the Suzuka circuit.
The Australian took advantage of a recurrent KERS problem for teammate Sebastian Vettel, narrowly edging out the German by 0.17 seconds in the final reckoning. Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top-four positions.
With the usual suspects having made it into the final phase of qualifying, it was Vettel who looked to be the favourite to claim yet another pole positions this season. However, the KERS unit on his RB9 racer had other ideas, delivering a repeat of the same issue he’d experienced in today’s earlier practice session, which would ultimately give him enough of a handicap to deny him pole position.
Desperate to make up the time deficit, Vettel had a sequence of scrappy flying laps, which gave Webber the impetus to claim his first pole position of the 2013 season. The soon-to-retire driver is just the fourth different pole-winner this season, with Red Bull Racing and Mercedes having swept to top spot in every qualifying session this season.
Vettel ultimate did enough to ensure that the team locked out the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s race, with Hamilton and Grosjean starting from the second row of the grid.
Felipe Massa outqualified teammate Fernando Alonso once again, with the Brazilian securing fifth place ahead of Nico Rosberg and Nico Hülkenberg. Alonso was eighth-fastest in the sister Ferrari, while Kimi Räikkönen and Jenson Button completed the top-ten in what was a competitive final phase of qualifying.
The battle to make it into Q3 was truly exciting, with the fastest sixteen runners covered by just 1.2 seconds. Sergio Pérez and Paul di Resta could count themselves particularly unlucky to miss out on a Q3 berth, with both falling short by less than two-tenths of a second on the stopwatch.
Di Resta’s Force India teammate, Adrian Sutil, had a tougher time. After picking up a five-place grid penalty for being forced to make an unscheduled gearbox change (on account of his earlier practice smash), the German failed to make it past the first qualifying hurdle.
Also joining Sutil on the sidelines was the Toro Rosso of Jean-Éric Vergne. The Frenchman brought about a temporary halt to Q1 when his rear brakes suddenly caught fire, forcing the Frenchman to park his Ferrari-powered car to have the fire put out.
Incredibly, his was the second flammable moment of the session. Esteban Gutiérrez was forced to evacuate his Sauber in the team’s pit garage when the back of his C32 challenger suffered a small fire, triggered by some unused fuel igniting. Fortunately neither Vergne nor Gutiérrez suffered any injuries, and Gutiérrez was able to continue and make it into Q2.
There were some celebrations in one half of the Marussia garage when Max Chilton outqualified teammate Jules Bianchi for the first time this season. All the more impressive was the fact that the young Brit managed to outpace both Caterhams as well, and on a circuit where he’d never driven previously. It was the first time that one of the Marussias had been quicker of the backmarker outfits in eleven races.
2013 Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:
|1.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||1:30.915|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||1:31.089||+ 0.174|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||1:31.253||+ 0.338|
|4.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E21||1:31.365||+ 0.450|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F138||1:31.378||+ 0.463|
|6.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||1:31.397||+ 0.482|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sauber Ferrari C32||1:31.644||+ 0.729|
|8.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F138||1:31.665||+ 0.750|
|9.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E21||1:31.684||+ 0.769|
|10.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||1:31.827||+ 0.912|
|Q3 Cut-Off – 1:31.848||Time||Gap*|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||1:31.989||+ 0.669|
|12.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM06||1:31.992||+ 0.702|
|13.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Renault FW35||1:32.013||+ 0.723|
|14.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber Ferrari C32||1:32.063||+ 0.773|
|15.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW35||1:32.093||+ 0.803|
|16.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||1:32.485||+ 1.195|
|Q2 Cut-Off – 1:32.875||Time||Gap**|
|17.||Adrian Sutil^||Force India Mercedes VJM06||1:32.890||+ 1.066|
|18.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||1:33.357||+ 1.533|
|19.||Max Chilton||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR02||1:34.320||+ 2.496|
|20.||Charles Pic^||Caterham Renault CT03||1:34.556||+ 2.732|
|21.||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham Renault CT03||1:34.879||+ 3.055|
|22.||Jules Bianchi^||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR02||1:34.958||+ 3.134|
* Gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:31.290 by Sebastian Vettel
** Gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:31.824 by Romain Grosjean
^ Charles Pic and Jules Bianchi each incur a ten-place grid penalty after earning their third official reprimand of the season at the preceding Korean Grand Prix. Adrian Sutil incurs a five-place grid penalty for an unauthorised gearbox change.