Indian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Red Bull takes record 16th pole
Red Bull Racing set a new record 16 pole positions in one season when Sebastian Vettel (1:24.178) secured fastest qualifying time for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton's narrow margin pole last time out in Korea is the only blot on Red Bull's 100% qualifying record in 2011 and it was Hamilton (1:24.474) who again managed to split the Red Bulls at the Buddh International Circuit.
Unfortunately for Lewis though, a three-place penalty for a yellow flag offence in Friday free practice means that he will start the race fifth on the grid.
"I'm surprised we could split the Red Bulls. The penalty is a bit of a silly mistake by myself," Hamilton said candidly, "but we've got good race pace and it's a long race with two DRS zones, so I'm optimistic."
Tyre warm-up proved an issue for the teams in India and there were varying strategies as teams worked out whether a one, two or even three-lap run was the optimum approach.
"Because the first sector is three straights, it was hard to get the tyre turned on in one lap," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner explained. "Seb was adamant that he could do it and managed to, whereas with Mark we went for a two-lap run, which worked out well."
With Hamilton's penalty, Webber (1:24.508) will therefore start alongside Vettel on the front row but on the dirty side of the grid which, in India, is very dirty...
Starting third, on the clean side, is Fernando Alonso (1:24.519), the Spaniard just one hundredth slower than Webber.
"It's been a good weekend so far," Alonso said. "I'm happy with the car and being in front of Jenson is quite a surprise - we've normally been fifth lately. Lewis's penalty helps and normally our race pace is stronger so I think we can have a go."
Jenson Button (1:24.950) had been happy with his McLaren in the final session of free practice, in which he'd split the Red Bulls, but found a distinct lack of grip in qualifying. So much so that he had to use a set of the softer tyres to be sure of escaping Q1. That limited him to just one Q3 run.
He also finished the session with some doubt as to whether he would be required to visit the stewards after setting his time just as a yellow flag sector was signalled for an accident to Felipe Massa's Ferrari, which broke its right front suspension on the Turn 10 kerbing and went into the tyres.
Button, in fact, was just coming into the section when the Ferrari went through the gravel and the first yellow light he saw was actually past the incident. That being the case, he would be unfortunate to be hit with a penalty.
"He (Massa) was heading into the gravel as I was coming up to it," Button explained. "I saw tyre marks, smoke and then yellow. I was in the yellow flag zone anyway so we'll see what happens. I backed off -- let's hope it was enough.
"This morning the car felt good but I couldn't find any grip on the hard tyre. It was similar on the soft and the traffic was terrible. Because the tyres were not working on the first lap, people were backing out of it and and trying again, so there were cars everywhere. I've got to work out why I couldn't find a balance but the car felt good on high fuel in the morning."
Massa's 1:25.122 from his first run was good enough for sixth on the grid and the Brazilian was unhurt in the incident, although some were surprised that a kerb impact had broken the Ferrari suspension.
Nico Rosberg (1:25.451) will start seventh with the first Mercedes while team mate Michael Schumacher is 12th on the grid after failing to escape Q2. Schumacher again reported a rear tyre vibration, the same issue he had in Korean qualifying, but conceded that it didn't solely explain a Q2 gap of almost eight tenths to his team mate.
"I can only think it is tyre preparation," Schumacher said, "which is down to me."
Adrian Sutil's Force India and the Toro Rossos of Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari completed the top 10 and all opted for tyre conservation in Q3. Paul Di Resta was disappointed to be starting 13th with the second Force India, afflicted by understeer in the high-speed sections.
It was the first time that all four Red Bull-backed cars have qualified in the top 10. At the back, HRT also achieved a landmark when Daniel Ricciardo (1:30.216) and home hero Narain Karthikeyan (1:30.238) who was just a couple of hundredths slower than the rookie Australian, outqualified both Marussia Virgin cars for the first time.
Jerome D'Ambrosio was six tenths shy of the HRTs while Timo Glock failed to set a representative time when fifth gear broke.