Suzuka Qualifying: Vettel untouchable as Red Bull scoop front row
6 October, 2012
Oct.6 (Apex) Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel was simply untouchable at Suzuka as he powered to pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix and in the process scored his fourth consecutive top spot start at a circuit which he relishes.
The German ace and Red Bull showed the kind of pace and dominance which they carried to every race last year, but has largely eluded them for the better part of this season – so much so that Mark Webber’s second fastest time ensures that they lockout the front row for the first time since Brazil last year.
His first run in Q3 was enough to grab pole position and although Kimi Raikkonen caused a yellow flag period, which ruined everyone’s final run, it was highly unlikely that anyone would match Vettel’s best time of 1:30.839 seconds.
The 25 year old, who now only trails Michael Schumacher and the late great Ayrton Senna in F1 pole positions, said afterwards, “I’m very, very happy with today’s result. We had a very good qualifying session and it was very smooth, almost perfect. We didn’t have the best start yesterday but we seem to get better every time we go out. The car feels fantastic so all in all it came together nicely and we hope for a good race tomorrow. It’s nice to see the support we get at Suzuka and it’s great to come here and drive the circuit the way that I did.”
Vettel and Alonso were both called to the stewards after qualifying where the German was reprimanded after being accused of impeding the Spaniard at the last corner in the dying seconds of a sunny session.
Webber was really the only one who looked likely to challenge Vettel, but it was not to be, particularly with the yellow flags waving when the business could have been done.
A perfect qualifying session for Red Bull, giving both drivers a huge opportunity to make inroads with their respective championship bids.
Webber was pleased, ”It has been a good weekend for us so far. Seb and I had a clean run in Q3 at the start. They were two big laps from both of us. Seb got me, it was a good lap for him. To be this much higher up [the grid] after a rough run of late, I’m happy to be on the front row. For the team, it’s a great tonic for them at this point of the championship.”
McLaren looked, and still look, the most likely to challenge the energy drinks team but appear to have lost performance relative to the world champions since Singapore. They did not have an answer for Red Bull’s pace when it was unleashed.
On his slowdown lap Button summed up the harsh reality over the radio, ”I couldn’t find any more guys, they were just too quick, the Red Bulls.”
Button reflected, ”It hurts a little bit having the grid penalty but today was good. This morning I wasn’t too happy in practice but we improved in qualifying. Both of my laps in Q3 I was happy with. It’s always great driving around here and it was a lot of fun but we just aren’t quick enough and I’m not sure what we can do about that. It’s such a nice place to fight for a win as well but never say never, there’s always possibilities and we’ll fight all the way tomorrow.”
Local hero Kamui Kobayashi instigated a flurry of flag waving from the enthusiastic fans around the circuit, ending up fourth fastest and matching the best ever performance by a Japanese driver in qualifying for their home race. The Saubers once again showed good pace at a classic track, as they did Monza and Spa.
The only downside is that Kobayashi’s best lap was done with yellow flags waving, which may incur the wrath of the stewards in the aftermath of qualifying…
Best of the Lotus duo was Romain Grosjean who ended the session fifth fastest, again getting the better of more experienced teammate Raikkonen. The Finn ruined his, and anyone else’s, chances of going any faster when he got it all wrong into Spoon. He almost saved it before beaching it permanently. Game over.
Raikkonen pulled no punches describing his mishap, “I spun,” and added, “I don’t care what happened to the others.”
With Sergio Perez sixth fastest, it meant that both Saubers, with customer Ferrari engines, were faster than the real deal from Maranello.
Fernando Alonso was seventh fastest for the reds, again having to dig deep when it mattered, while his teammate Felipe Massa – who flattered only to deceive in practice – could only manage 11th.
With Ferrari needing to raise their game, or at least sustain themselves in the pecking order until he season’s end, they have resorted to finger pointing at their hapless wind tunnel which suggests that a certain element of desperation may be descending on the squad. Whatever the case, the drivers championship is theirs to lose…again.
Alonso reasoned, ”It’s more or less as we expected. We’ve been extremely unlucky with the yellow flags. I had to lift off and probably I lost fourth position. With Button’s penalty, maybe we could have started tomorrow third. It was a lost opportunity today. We were unlucky today, hopefully lucky tomorrow. Tyre degradation looks quite high. We need to do the maximum for that. The start will be important. The two McLarens are behind us – they have very strong race pace so I think there will be a challenge there. The points are on Sunday so we need to be optimistic.”
Considering Lewis Hamilton’s blistering pace in Singapore, his ninth place at Suzuka is something of a mystery. Although it could also suggest that Adrian Newey and his clever crew at Red Bull have made a major breakthrough with their current updates on the RB7.
On his final run Hamilton came across the very slow, dawdling, Marussia of Charles Pic which forced the Briton to take evading action to avoid a huge shunt at the final chicane. Pic was fined €5,000 and reprimanded by the stewards.
Nevertheless Hamilton had no answer in qualifying to the pace setters, ”With the pace that I have, who knows what will happen in the race. Long run pace wasn’t bad yesterday but the car…I’m going to struggle with it tomorrow.”
Although he is classified tenth on the qualifying time sheets, Hulkenberg will drop five places, but will be content that he was able to repay his mechanics with a strong showing after writing off the left side of his VJM05 a couple of hours earlier in FP3.
The first big scalp to go in Q1 was Bruno Senna who was severely baulked on the final sector of his flying lap by a Toro Rosso, resulting in an early shower for the under pressure Brazilian.
Neither Mercedes made it beyond Q2, with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg ending the session 13th and 15th respectively.
Others who would have expected to progress to Q3 but failed were: Pastor Maldonado, Paul di Resta and, as mentioned, Felipe Massa.
Subbed by AJN.
Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying – Saturday, 6 October 2012
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:32.608||1:31.501||1:30.839||11|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:32.951||1:31.950||1:31.090||15|
|10||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:32.828||1:32.272||12|
|12||11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:32.898||1:32.327||14|
|21||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||1:35.385||6|
|Q1 107% Time||1:38.471|
Note: Schumacher drops 10 grid spots for causing a collision at previous round; Button and Hulkenberg drop five grid places for unscheduled gearbox changes.