Vettel And Red Bull Take Front Row In Suzuka

Leading up to qualifying, Red Bull had been quickest in two of the three practice sessions and they continued their pace as Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix with a time of 1:30.839. Mark Webber’s best time was 0.251 down on his team-mate and the Australian lines up on the grid in second. Jenson Button set the third fastest time in Q3 but will take his five-place grid drop for changing his gearbox after the last race.

The top-ten shootout in Q3 was building to a frantic finish but Kimi Raikkonen spun in the dying minutes which brought out yellow flags and left everyone unable to better their time. There were issues during the qualifying hour with drivers blocking each other on the narrow and twisty track layout, as Bruno Senna and Paul Di Resta found to their cost. Vettel himself found himself in front of the stewards after the session as he was judged to have blocked Fernando Alonso on his qualifying lap in Q3.

Vettel’s pole position means he has now qualified quickest for the fourth consecutive Japanese Grand Prix. It is his 34th career pole position which brings him one clear of Jim Clark and Alain Prost who are both tied on 33. He moves up to third position in the all-time pole table behind only Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. It is a strong display of the German’s speed that he has achieved 34 poles while he has yet to even reach 100 Grand Prix starts.

“I think we had a very smooth qualifying session, nearly perfect.” said Vettel. “I could not have asked for more.”

“We didn’t have best start to the weekend yesterday. I wasn’t very happy, but it got better each time I went out.

“The car feels fantastic around here. I was able to pick up a bit more overnight and it all came together nicely and now we hope for a very good race tomorrow.”

Webber may not be on pole but is still placed well

Mark Webber was pleased to get his first front-row start since the British Grand Prix in July and like his team-mate, is confident of a strong race.

“It has been a good weekend for us so far,” said Webber. “Seb and I had a clean run in Q3 when it mattered at the start and those were two pretty big laps from both of us.

“We have had a bit of a rough run of late and it makes life much more difficult – so I am looking forward to the race.

“It is good for the championship to have our cars further up again.

“We can really race from there and have a good run tomorrow.”

Button showed his team-mate the way on this particular Saturday

Jenson Button takes a five-place drop from his qualifying position but believes that managing the tyres and strategy will be crucial and isn;t ruling out a victory.

“If it was a straightforward race, you’d have no chance of victory from eighth,” Button said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be straightforward.

The tyres are difficult for everyone here. They have been difficult all year but especially here with blistering and graining – strategy is going to be important.

“It’s going to be a thinking drivers’ race and our engineers are very good at thinking on their feet in difficult situations.

“It’s not going to be easy but we’ll give it everything we’ve got.

“There will be four cars in front that will be very quick in the race, the two Red Bulls and the two Lotus. They will be tough to beat but we will still go for the win.”

Both Sauber drivers start the race inside the top 5

One of the performances of the session was homeland hero Kamui Kobayashi putting his Sauber into an impressive fourth, moving up to third once Button serves his penalty. The Japanese driver is hoping for a podium finish in front of his home fans which would give a boost to his chances of keeping his drive in 2013. His team-mate Sergio Perez was equally impressive in sixth.

“I am happy because I think I achieved the maximum possible today,” said Kobayashi. “After quite a few changes to the settings the car is fast again.

“From where I am starting I should have a chance to fight for a podium finish, and it would be a dream come true if I could achieve my first podium in Formula 1 in front of my home crowd.

“But first of all I have to manage a good start, and then I should have more luck than in Spa this year where I started from the front row but got involved in an accident.”

Alonso may not have qualified highly, but he is hopeful of limiting any damage to his championship lead

Fernando Alonso bemoaned his misfortune as the yellow flags for Raikkonen’s accident curtailed what looked to be the Spaniard’s fastest lap.

“What can I say, other than get angry about being unlucky? The yellow flags came at the worst possible moment, when I was coming into Turn 14,” said Alonso.

“Up until then, my lap was great and there was every chance of setting the fourth fastest time of the day, which would have then seen me start from third on the grid.

“From there, the race could have taken on a completely different picture, but we have to accept what happened. We were unlucky today, so maybe we’ll be lucky tomorrow.”

The German recovered well from his incident in practice

Nico Hulkenberg shrugged off his collision with the wall in the practice session before qualifying as he posted the tenth fastest time of qualifying, but the German, like Button, changed his gearbox which was damaged in his crash and will start five places lower.

“It was a bit of a tricky day, starting with my accident this morning. That wasn’t in the schedule,” said Hulkenberg. “We made the most of it and the mechanics did a fantastic job to turn the car around in the first place.

“We whizzed into Q3 and we have to pay the price now for this morning because we damaged the gearbox.

“I’m in the car, so I’m responsible for what happened. It wasn’t a silly mistake, just a small lock-up and with the way that corner is, there was no way to recover it. The timing was pretty bad and now we have to deal with the situation as best as we can.”

Hamilton starts behind his team-mate, even with his grid penalty

Lewis Hamilton was unhappy about his chances in the race as setup changes he made before qualifying backfired, leaving the Englishman with a tough race ahead of him.

“We just made a mistake and now we are stuck with it,” Hamilton said. “We made some changes going into P3 but it went the opposite way into oversteer so we didn’t know what to do. We went back the other way and it was a disaster.

“I felt we had a great car all weekend, it was just the set-up changes and then the car would not turn anymore.

“We were miles off and when you start you first lap you think ‘damn, I wish I had gone the other way.'”

Japanese Grand Prix Grid

1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault
2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault
3 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault
5 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault
8 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes * Penalty
9 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
10 Felipe Massa Ferrari
11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes
12 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault
13 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
14 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari
15 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes
16 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault
17 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault
18 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth
19 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari * Penalty
20 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth
21 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth
22 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault
23 Michael Schumacher Mercedes * Penalty
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth

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