VitalF1blog: Webber pips Vettel to pole at Suzuka
Mark Webber has managed to secure his first pole of the season after a frenetic and highly entertaining qualifying hour around the legendary Suzuka circuit, ahead of tomorrow’s 53-lap Japanese Grand Prix. The Australian ace will start the race alongside team-mate Sebastian Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton 3rd.
The all-important qualifying session began in glorious weather conditions above the circuit, as Esteban Gutierrez became the first driver to take to the track at the start of the opening qualifying segment. The Mexican rookie proceeded to produce the first timed lap with a 01:33.547, before further improving his time at the top as several more drivers gradually left the confines of the pits to begin their qualifying runs. Kimi Raikkonen soon ended the Sauber driver’s reign with a 01:32.841, as the times at the top began to tumble.
As Jenson Button produced a highly competitive 01:32.606 to storm to the top for McLaren, a brief fire erupted in the Sauber garage on Esteban Gutierrez’s car. The blaze was almost instantly quelled, however the Mexican rookie wasted no time in leaping from his machine. Despite the issue, Gutierrez managed to eventually return to the track to continue with his qualifying session. Meanwhile out on the circuit Fernando Alonso rose to the top for Ferrari with an impressive 01:32.371, before Lewis Hamilton then pipped his former McLaren team-mate with an even quicker 01:32.340.
Mark Webber then stormed to the top for Red Bull as the opening segment neared it’s conclusion, before a brief red flag delay was caused when Jean-Eric Vergne’s rear brakes spontaneously burst into flames at Turn 11. The Frenchman immediately came to a halt on the circuit and leaped from his burning Toro Rosso, as the ever-efficient Suzuka marshals put out the blaze. Once the flames had been extinguished the session was resumed, with Nico Rosberg leading out a long queue of awaiting drivers who were all naturally eager to produce one more timed lap.
As the checkered flag emerged Nico Rosberg shot to the top with a 01:32.244, before Romain Grosjean disposed of the German with a 01:31.824. Further down the order Felipe Massa only just managed to progress into the next segment, as Adrian Sutil and Jean-Eric Vergne joined Max Chilton, Charles Pic, Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi in elimination from proceedings.
The Force India of Paul di Resta became the first driver to take to the track as the second segment of qualifying got underway, with the Scotsman eager to enjoy a competitive weekend after enduring five consecutive retirements. Although he was able to produce the initial benchmark with a 01:33.059, Nico Hulkenberg and then Kimi Raikkonen instantly managed to better his time with the latter producing a 01:32.020. Lewis Hamilton momentarily rose to the top for Mercedes with a 01:31.852, before the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso disposed of the 2008 World Champion with an even quicker 01:31.828.
During the closing minutes of the second segment, Sebastian Vettel fully asserted his authority over proceedings with a scintillating 01:31.290 as team-mate Mark Webber slotted into 2nd position. The Red Bulls had finally shown their hand, as the usual freneticism ensued further down the order. Felipe Massa once again waited until the final seconds to leap out of the drop zone, with the Brazilian ace managing to produce the fastest final sector time in the process. Ultimately Sergio Perez was joined by Paul Di Resta, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez, Pastor Maldonado and Daniel Ricciardo in being eliminated from proceedings in what remains to be a highly competitive midfield section.
After two highly entertaining segments, the all-important top ten shootout was poised to enthrall the amassing spectators as the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean continued to strive to dispose of the Red Bull duo. As soon as the final segment began, reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel elected to take to the track first ahead of team-mate Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso. During the German’s first timed lap his race engineer informed him that KERS was momentarily offline, with the mechanical gremlins which plagued the team during morning practice looking to have resurfaced at a pivotal moment in the weekend.
Regardless of the lack of KERS, Sebastian Vettel still managed to produce a 01:31.312 as the initial benchmark. However, it was not enough to fend off team-mate Mark Webber, who immediately thwarted the German with an even quicker 01:30.975. In traditional fashion the drivers returned to the pits after their first runs, as Red Bull quickly set upon correcting Vettel’s frustrating KERS issue. With only minutes remaining in the session the German’s mechanics were successful in fixing the KERS issue, however the 26-year-old was still unable to beat his team-mate’s benchmark. In the meantime Mark Webber crossed the line to improve once again, this time with a 01:30.915.
Further down the order Lewis Hamilton managed to slot into 3rd position behind the Red Bull duo, and will start tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix alongside the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. Felipe Massa once again managed to out-qualify Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, with the Spaniard only managing a disappointing 8th. Should the former Champion finish any lower than 8th during tomorrow’s race, all Sebastian Vettel will be required to do is win the race to clinch his fourth successive Drivers’ Crown. However, the legendary Suzuka circuit is a tough beast to tame, which should provide us with an enthralling 53-lap race.
Author: Andy Young
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