Vettel leads Red Bull lock-out in delayed Suzuka qualifying
Sebastian Vettel led a predictable Red Bull front-row lockout in qualifying ahead of this afternoon's Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, after fending off the opposition in the re-scheduled Sunday morning qualifying hour. Vettel was the quickest man in Q1 and Q2 before pushing his advantage home in the grid-deciding Q3 session, going just seven hundredths faster than team-mate Webber.
Most drivers completed two runs in Q3, and Vettel led the way by an ominous four tenths of a second after his first tour on a time of 1m30.792s, followed by team-mate Webber on a 1m31.185s. Although Webber managed to improve his time by over three tenths of a second to 1m30.853s, he still fell short of Vettel's effort. The German then improved his time fractionally to a 1m30.785s, rubberstamping his eighth pole position of the season.
Despite his limited track time ahead of qualifying, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton produced an impressive lap to place himself third in Q3, courtesy of a time of 1m31.169s. However an unscheduled gearbox change yesterday means he drops five places on the grid to eighth, making his task of keeping his championship hopes alive all the more difficult.
Robert Kubica put in an equally impressive display to take fourth in Q3 (1m31.231s) followed by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso (1m31.352s), with Hamilton's penalty promoting both to third and fourth respectively. Hamilton's team-mate Jenson Button (1m31.378s) starts fifth but crucially is the only driver in the top ten to have qualified on the hard tyre, which could give him an advantage during the race given the high degradation of the soft, the tyre on which the rest of the top ten will start the race.
Sixth on the grid will be Nico Rosberg (1m31.494s) for Mercedes, followed by Williams' Rubens Barrichello (1m31.535s) in seventh. Just behind Lewis Hamilton in ninth will be Nico Hulkenberg (1m31.559s) who lost two tenths on his final flying lap after being blocked by Hamilton. Rounding out the top ten was Suzuka specialist Michael Schumacher (1m31.846s) after leaving it late to securing his place in Q3.
Schumacher's last-ditch Q2 effort pushed BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld (1m32.187s) out of Q3, giving the German a grid position of 11th. Ferrari's Felipe Massa (1m32.321s) hit traffic and errors on his way to 12th, while Renault's Vitaly Petrov (1m32.422s) lacked the pace of his team-mate to progress to Q3. Home hero Kamui Kobayashi (1m32.427s) was unable to progress beyond 14th, while Adrian Sutil (1m32.659s), Jaime Alguersuari (1m32.427s) and Vitantonio Liuzzi (1m33.154s) rounded out the Q2 runners.
Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi was the only established driver to bite the dust in Q1, after posting a time of 1m33.568s. Of the new teams, Lotus Racing re-established themselves as the fastest qualifers, with Jarno Trulli (1m35.346s) and Heikki Kovalainen (1m35.464s) both holding a comfortable cushion on the Virgin's of Lucas Di Grassi (1m36.265s) and Timo Glock (1m36.332s). Hispania Racing complete the grid, with Bruno Senna (1m37.270s) in 23rd and Japan's Sakon Yamamoto (1m37.365s) in 24th.