Miracles do happen in Formula One – Sebastian Vettel is NOT on pole position at Suzuka. Only he’s 2nd, which is still quite impressive.
It took a KERS failure and some slight, uncharacteristic errors from the 2013 champion-in-waiting to prevent him from getting his 5th straight Japanese pole, but the accolade still went to a Red Bull. Mark Webber’s first pole position in Suzuka comes at his final visit, but even the exiting Aussie admitted that it felt a bit “hollow”.
Here’s how the qualifying hour went down;
Drivers spend all year looking for a hot streak of results, but unfortunately for Esteban Gutierrez and Jean-Eric Vergne, it happened quite literally in Q1. The Mexican’s Sauber shot flames whilst he was in the pit garage, but the coolness of his team meant that not only was it minimal, but he was back out on track within minutes.
It wasn’t so lucky for Vergne, whose rear brakes gave up the ghost while the Frenchman was entering the hairpin. Red flag with 3 minutes to go. Game on.
Frantic action was seen at the restart, with many cars switching to the softer tyre compound to ensure they wouldn’t fall at the first hurdle. Adrian Sutil was the big loser as he fell into the drop zone, but with Force India electing to change his gearbox in the build up to the session, his weekend was hampered anyway.
The charred remains of Vergne’s Toro Rosso joins him. Looks like a long night of repairs for the Italian team.
Eliminated: 17. Adrian Sutil*, 18. Jean-Eric Vergne, 19. Max Chilton, 20. Charles Pic**, 21. Giedo Van Der Garde, 22. Jules Bianchi**
*Five place penalty due to gearbox change
**Ten place penalties for third reprimands of the season
With all the flames settled down, it was time for the big boys to start flexing their muscles. While Fernando Alonso set the initial pace, it was the ominous sign that Sebastian Vettel meant business by going half-a-second faster than his Spanish rival with his only lap of the session.
Behind him, Sergio Perez was the unlucky man to drop out of the top ten at the death after a flurry of faster laps from his rivals. Nico Hulkenberg continued pushing himself into a competitive seat for 2014 by edging into Q3 yet again too – will someone give this man a decent drive, please?
Eliminated: 11. Sergio Perez, 12. Paul Di Resta, 13. Valterri Bottas, 14. Esteban Gutierrez, 15. Pastor Maldonado, 16. Daniel Ricciardo
And as if the Gods heard out prayers, the dominance of Sebastian Vettel suffered a blow, when his KERS failed on his first flying lap of the session. Coupled with a mistake on the exit of Spoon, the German ended the first round of laps to be 4-tenths off his teammate Mark Webber.
Seconds out, round two. Mark improved by half a tenth, but Vettel came back, and even without KERS he still managed to get within 0.1s of the Aussie. And considering he locked a tyre at the hairpin, he could have overcome him too…
Lewis Hamilton did well to at least make the Red Bulls look over their shoulders slightly to be best of the rest, but he’ll be looking over his at the start tomorrow as Romain Grosjean put his Lotus alongside him in 4th.
Felipe Massa will start an impressive 5th, yet again getting the better of Fernando Alonso, who could only manage 8th. If the Spaniard finishes 9th this weekend, and Vettel goes on to win, the title is mathematically over, so not the best of starting places.
But the day belongs to Mark Webber, who starts on pole position at a track he adores, the achievement made even sweeter thanks to his impending exit from Formula One. Can he go all the way tomorrow?
Japanese Grand Prix – Top 10 Starting Grid
1. Mark Webber
2. Sebastian Vettel
3. Lewis Hamilton
4. Romain Grosjean
5. Felipe Massa
6. Nico Rosberg
7. Nico Hulkenberg
8. Fernando Alonso
9. Kimi Raikkonen
10. Jenson Button