Japanese GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Vettel keeps pole record alive - just...
Red Bull Racing maintained their 100% 2011 pole position record by the skin of their teeth at Suzuka, when Sebastian Vettel (1:30.466) outqualified Jenson Button's McLaren (1:30.475) by nine thousandths of a second on their final Q3 runs.
Button's team mate Lewis Hamilton (1:30.617) had been fastest after the first runs but did not get a second chance after being passed by Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher just before the start of their crucial second runs and failing to make it across the start/finish line in time.
Hamilton, clearly unhappy at the situation, said: "Jenson in front of me slowed to get his gap, I was trying to get a gap and just as I was coming into the chicane I saw Mark diving up inside. As I gave him room, Schumacher nearly crashed into me on the left, so it was quite dangerous. It was a strange situation..."
Vettel was delighted, his Red Bull fitted with a new front wing that was flown out by courier from the UK after his accident in the first session of free practice. It arrived from the airport by helicopter with 20 minutes to spare.
Once the cars go out in Q1 it is a parc ferme situation and Vettel faced having to run with the older spec wing. There was no suggestion that he would commandeer Webber's wing after the ructions at Silverstone last year.
"No," smiled Red Bull's Christian Horner, "that was a component failure whereas this time it was driver error, so there was no chance of that. It's why Sebastian was looking so distressed with himself after he damaged the wing! It was a real team effort to get the replacement here."
After surviving the McLaren challenge, Vettel admitted: "We were making a comeback today regarding the car balance and I wasn't sure if we could do it because we knew the McLaren one lap pace was strong. I eventually got everything together and everything out of the car. It was tough but I enjoyed it.
"You start with the mega first sector here at Suzuka and although I had a bit of a wobble there, I made up for it in sector two and all along we've been strong in sector three.
"Lewis's first run time was fast but I thought I could do a lap around 1:30.5 if it all went well."
Button went into qualifying thinking that pole was on, and only just missed it.
"I love driving here," he said. "Suzuka is phenomenal when you have a car that's working. I thought the lap would have been good enough although I had a bit of oversteer on the last run, but congratulations to the team for fighting Red Bull on a track where they've dominated previously."
Hamilton was convinced he had a couple of tenths left, which would have secured pole, but everyone was just a bit too close together as they sought to get the best of the evolving track conditions.
"I didn't want to pass him at all or get involved in any of that," Webber said, "but the team was saying come on, get on with it, get on with it, we're running out of time, you're not going to get the lap, you've got to push through the last chicane.
"Lewis was obviously waiting for JB and Michael was coming. I thought it can't be that tight on time because Michael's not all over me but once we arrived at the chicane Lewis was sort of stopped and we all wanted to be one car at the start of that lap.
"I tried to come down the inside, Lewis was trying to block, I got through but very low and clumsy. We needed an extra 15 seconds. It was all a bit of a mess and I think what caught the engineers out were the slow 'out' laps from everybody, which were consistently happening, which was just a case of looking after the tyres on such a long lap."
When Webber (1:31.156) started his quick lap he set the fastest sector one time but then lost out in sector two when he went a bit deep into the Hairpin. He compounded that by being too early on the DRS button, which failed to activate, and he ran bereft of it between the Hairpin and Spoon. It meant that the second Red Bull starts sixth, behind both Ferraris.
Felipe Massa (1:30.804) outqualified Fernando Alonso (1:30.886) for the third time in five races and, interestingly enough, starts alongside Hamilton after their Singapore spat...
Neither Schumacher, Senna, Petrov or Kobayashi, the remaining Q3 combatants set a time. The FIA's provisional classification has Schumacher starting seventh, Senna eighth, Petrov ninth and Kobayashi 10th.
The regulations, however, say that those cars that don't set a time will line up with those drivers who started a flying lap first, those who emerged from the pits next, and those who failed to emerge from the pits at all, last. If there is no distinction, they will line up in number order, which is why Petrov, who was quicker than Senna in Q2, starts behind him.
At the time of writing, however, there is discussion over Kobayashi, who was alone in starting his flying lap but did not complete it. He should therefore start seventh, unless the stewards are persuaded that his intention was never to complete it and therefore it does not constitute a flying lap...