Sebastian Vettel continued his pole position dominance as he set the fastest time in the Saturday Qualifying session for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Jenson Button tried hard to match or better Vettel’s time but he could only manage second fastest for McLaren whilst Lewis Hamilton failed to set a time in his second running but his initial time was good enough for him to finish third fastest.
Felipe Massa was P4 ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. Michael Schumacher was P7 with Bruno Senna P8, Vitaly Petrov P9 and Kamui Kobayashi rounding off the top ten.
Pole position seemed going McLaren’s way as Hamilton had set the fastest time in the initial stages of Q1 and when the cars trundled out for their second stints on newer tyres, Hamilton dallied on his in-lap and couldn’t cross the start/finish line ahead of the chequered flag and hence could not better his initial time. That meant Vettel only had Button as a realistic competitor for the fastest time and as they finished their laps, the gap between them was only nine-thousandths of a second. Vettel had did it again…it was his fifteenth pole position this season.
Q1 had the local hero Kamui Kobayashi topping the timesheets for Sauber with Force India’s Adrian Sutil second – both of them on the faster soft tyre compound. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was third fastest ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Vitaly Petrov. Jenson Button was sixth fastest with Vettel just behind him. But the name of the game in Q1 is to make it to the next session and the biggest casualty of that was Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, who failed to notch a time due to a hydraulics problem and will start 23rd. Joining him at the tail end of the grid were the two Lotuses of Heikki Kovalainen & Jarno Trulli, the two Virgins of Timo Glock & Jerome d’Ambrosio and the two HRTs of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo.
Q2 saw normal service resumed as Lewis Hamilton headed the charts with McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari taking up the top six positions with Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher seventh. The two Renaults of Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov as well as Kobayashi made it to the top ten. Knocked out of the session were the two Force Indias, the two Williams’ and the two Toro Rossos along with the second Sauber of Sergio Perez.
While Red Bull would have been quietly confident of sewing up pole with the form in which Vettel was in, there seemed to be a real sense of optimism around McLaren as their new ‘Suzuka Spec’ rear wing was working well and both Button and Hamilton were pretty much at the head of the order in free practice sessions. even in Qualifying, Vettel was not the fastest in either of the first sessions and at the start of the third session, Hamilton had the best time. It might have been foreseeable that had Lewis managed to get ahead of the chequered flag in time, he would have challenged for the pole position. But as it unfolded, Vettel had it all to himself and though Button might have been close, he didn’t quite cut it.
With the track at Suzuka posing a problem in terms of tyre management – several teams complained of the tyres blistering – there has been talk of as many as 4 or even 5 pit stops in the race. Remains to be seen if such a strategy pans out. Ferrari and Alonso were hoping for scoring a win in the remaining five races but with Vettel at the head of the order and the two McLarens better this time around, that might not be possible at Suzuka, at least.
Am gonna stick my neck out and predict a Mark Webber win with Button second and Vettel third – sealing a second WDC for Seb!