Red Bull will start 1–2 at the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel winning the pole and teammate Mark Webber starting second.
Vettel lapped the challenging Suzuka circuit in 1:30.839, the only driver to break into the ninety-second range. Webber was not far behind with 1:31.090. It seems Red Bull has overcome the difficulties its RB8 chassis had early in the season, and boosted by Lewis Hamilton’s mechanical failure at Singapore, Sebastian Vettel is ready to start a late-season run for his third drivers’ championship.
“I’m very, very happy with today’s result,” Vettel said in the post-qualifying press conference, broadcast on Speed-TV. “I think we had a very, very smooth qualifying session, nearly perfect, so we couldn’t really ask for more. The car felt fantastic from the start.
“We didn’t really have the best start to the weekend; yesterday morning I wasn’t very happy but then we seemed to get it better every time we go out. I was able to pick up a little bit overnight and it came together nicely and now obviously we hope for a very good race tomorrow.”
It was Vettel’s 34th career pole.
McLaren’s Jenson Button qualified third, a full two tenths off of Webber’s pace and more than four-tenths behind Vettel. Button was happy with the car, despite being considerably slower; he thought that tire strategy might give McLaren an edge.
Button will start eighth after an unscheduled gearbox change after Singapore. Engineers found he had the same problem that ended his team mate Lewis Hamilton’s winning run in that race, so Button will likely finish but will have to work harder to finish well.
“It was a good qualifying session—both my Q3 laps felt good,” Button said in a McLaren press release. “We’ve improved the car a lot since yesterday, when we tried a very low-downforce set-up to help with overtaking. We pulled back from that for today, and I feel a lot happier with the car.
“My gearbox penalty means it’s disappointing to be starting so far back, though. Overtaking has never been easy around here – even with the introduction of DRS—and, that being the case, it’s quite a surprise that the DRS zone has been shortened for this year.
“But I love racing around here. And because everyone’s strategy could be up in the air tomorrow—because there’s been quite a lot of tire graining and blistering—things could still be a bit unpredictable.
“The championship is a long shot for me, I know that, but I’d love to do well in front of the Japanese crowd; I’ll be going for the win.”
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi put on a great performance for his home crowd to qualify fourth (third on the grid.) Behind him will sit Romain Grosjean’s Lotus and the second Sauber driven by Sergio Perez.
“I am happy because I think I achieved the maximum possible today,” Kobayashi told formula1.com. “I want to thank the team for the big step forward they have managed with the car since Friday.
“In the beginning we were struggling with the new parts but now we have got it right. 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 One in front of my home crowd.”
Sixth, seventh and ninth are a trio of power-hitters: Kimi Rikkönen of Lotus, Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren. These three former world champions were all held up when Raikönnen spun at the end of the session, so none of them could get in their final flying laps.
“I spun,” the laconic Finn told formula1.com. “I was on a good lap and I was pushing—maybe a little too hard—and lost the rear. It’s a shame as the car feels the best it has all weekend. If the car’s good tomorrow we should be able to move forwards. Let’s see what happens.”
“What can I say, other than get angry about being unlucky?” asked Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. “The yellow flags came at the worst possible moment, when I was coming into Turn 14. Up ‘til 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!”
Hamilton struggled with set-up during qualifying; he might not have had anything for the leaders anyway.
“Today’s qualifying session was one of the most disappointing of my year,” Hamilton told Formula1.com. “To be honest, I went the wrong way with the set-up and ended up with too much understeer. Until quali, the car had felt great all weekend, but I just couldn’t make it turn this afternoon, and as a result I just couldn’t extract the best from it.
“Jenson showed that the car itself is quite good though – he did a great job today – and our long-run pace wasn’t bad yesterday, either.“So you never know what’s going to happen in tomorrow’s race. It’s going to be a struggle, but I’ll be pushing my hardest with the set-up I’ve got, and I hope that, through good tire management, I’ll be able to overtake some of the cars in front of me.
“I’ll be trying to get as many points as I can tomorrow.”
Next: Tough Track, Tough Points Race