Vettel Takes Suzuka F1 Pole in Crash-Filled Qualifying

October 3, 2009 Updated: July 28, 2015

Sebastian Vettel uses every inch of track, and then some, to qualify on the pole for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka. (Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Sebastian Vettel uses every inch of track, and then some, to qualify on the pole for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka. (Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel put in the fastest lap at the challenging Suzuka circuit, capturing the pole for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. Toyota’s Jarno Trulli took second, and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton took third.

Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg protested the results, claiming that the Brawn drivers ignored a yellow flag in the second qualifying session, when Rosberg and Alonso were bumped. It remains to be seen if the grid order will be rearranged. At publication five drivers: Button, Barichello, Alonso, Heidfeld, and Rosberg had been summoned by the stewards, but no announcement had been made.

UPDATE: After considering the facts, race stewards have penalized five drivers, five places on the grid.

Brawn GP’s Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, Force India’s Adrian Sutil, Renault’s Fernando Alonso and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi will all be pushed back five spots on the grid.

This moves the Brawns from fifth and seventh to tenth and twelfth, meaning that if Button cannot drastically improve his position in the race, Vettel has a very good chance of surviving to continue the championship fight in Brazil. This also improves Red Bull's chances in the constructors' championship.

“It was a strange session obviously. The key is not to get distracted,” Sebastian Vettel said. “The most important thing is all the drivers are okay.

“Sometimes you get lucky—you get a red flag just when you are about to warm up your tires. Sometimes you have started your flying lap already. I think we were quite lucky, the time we went out so in the end we had only one run and the car worked fantastic; quickest Q1, Q2, and Q3. Since Singapore, I think we have got our old strength back. Finally, I am able to put the car on the pole.”

Mark Webber's Red Bull is hoisted off the track after Webber crashed in Saturday morning practice. (Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Mark Webber's Red Bull is hoisted off the track after Webber crashed in Saturday morning practice. (Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

No Time to Practice

After torrential rains washed out most of Friday’s practice, drivers were eager to take the track Saturday morning. With no data and a track that had been recently resurfaced, teams did not know how to set up their cars. Every driver hurried to get in maximum laps—except Red Bull’s Sebastien Vettel, who has blown most of his season’s allotment of engines. One more blown engine, and Vettel will be assessed a ten-place penalty on the starting grid. So, Vettel tried to sneak through practice and qualifying with the minimum laps possible.

Sebastien Buemi goes wide at Degner corner during qualifying for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Sebastien Buemi goes wide at Degner corner during qualifying for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)
During Saturday morning practice, Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber crashed hard at Degner corner, a corner that claimed many cars throughout the day. Webber wrote off the chassis, and was not able to qualify. He will have to start from the back of the pack.

Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Buemi crashed in the first qualifying session, also at Degner corner. He hit the wall, but was able to get the car back to the pits for quick repairs, and he went back out to qualify.

McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen was next to go off at Degner, spinning through the gravel but avoiding the wall.

Heikki Kovalainen spins at Degner corner during qualifying for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Heikki Kovalainen spins at Degner corner during qualifying for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Degner is a double-apex, downhill, off-camber corner; also the track surface changes from new to old right at the corner. Drivers seemed to be carrying too much speed into the corner, and because it is downhill, could not brake hard enough, hitting the curb and bouncing, thus losing control.

“In Turn Nine, where people went off, it’s quite difficult; when you get a little bit too wide on that curb, you’re basically just a passenger,” Sebastian Vettel explained. “By the time you come back, you’re not able to get rid of the speed. There’s not much run-off, so the wall is pretty close and that’s why I think people hit the wall.”

Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari of Spain crashes into the tire barrier during qualifying for the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)
Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari of Spain crashes into the tire barrier during qualifying for the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)

Fisichella, Nakajima, Liuzzi, Webber, and Grosjean failed to make it into the second qualifying session.

Safety and medical personnel assist Timo Glock after he crashed during qualifying for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Safety and medical personnel assist Timo Glock after he crashed during qualifying for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Toro Rosso’s other driver, Jaime Alegursuari, was the next one to hit too much curb entering Degner corner. He ended up nosed into the wall, but was uninjured and climbed out of the car under his own power.

Shortly after qualifying resumed, Toyota’s Timo Glock, who was in the middle of a very fast lap, went too hot into Degner and crashed hard into the tire barrier. He was removed from the car by the safety crew; he wasconscious and waving to the crowd. Reports from the hospital indicate that he had an abrasion on his left leg and would probably be back in the car for the race.

Jenson Button turned in fast times in the second session but struggled in the final session; then a five-place penalty dropped him to 12th. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Jenson Button turned in fast times in the second session but struggled in the final session; then a five-place penalty dropped him to 12th. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“For Timo, he obviously had the worst crash out of the four,” said Sebastian Vettel. “It looked like he had a problem with the steering as usually it is easy flat and you just continue to go on the straight, but it looked like he could not control the car anymore.”

Drivers Push On, Get Penalized 

The Brawn drivers, Rubens Barrichello and series leader Jenson Button, waited until the final minutes of the session to make their runs. Button went first and drove a great lap, going into P4. Barrichello was in the middle of his lap when a yellow flag was waved; Sebastian Buemi had once again crashed on the course, leaving debris strewn across the track.

Rather than slowing down and risking not getting timed for the session, Barrichello drove right through the debris flat-out, and finished in P5. Immediately after the session, Williams driver Nico Rosberg and Renault’s Fernando Alonso protested to the steward that they had each aborted a fast lap when they saw the yellow flag, while Barrichello had pressed on. Stewards reviewed the matter and decided that five drivers, including Fernando Alonso, were guilty of ignoring the yellow flag. All five were penalized five places on the grid.

Race film shows that Alonso didn’t slow down when the yellow flag came out either. He kept pushing until he actually came up on the limping Buemi, at which point he had to slow. Alonso’s protest not only moved four other drivers down, it dropped him from twelfth to seventeenth, farthest back of all the penalized drivers.

Rosberg, Alonso, Kubica, Glock, and Alguersuari were bumped from session two.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel powers his machine around the Suzuka track to take the pole for the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix, October 3, 2009. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel powers his machine around the Suzuka track to take the pole for the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix, October 3, 2009. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)

Vettel, Trulli, Hamilton Sieze the Top Spots

Toyota driver Jarno Trulli had an excellent qualifying session, ending up second on the grid for the Japanese F1 Grand Prix. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)
Toyota driver Jarno Trulli had an excellent qualifying session, ending up second on the grid for the Japanese F1 Grand Prix. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)
The final qualifying session started with all the cars carrying the fuel they intended to start the race with. Heikki Kovalainen, apparently underestimating his car’s weight, straddled the curb at Degner, lifting all four wheels off the road and sliding into the tire barrier. Kovalainen was uninjured. This brought out the third red flag in qualifying.

When the track was cleared, Sebastien Vettel drove a scary fast lap, going right to the edge at quite a few corners, but he kept it together and turned in the best time of the session.

McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton took third spot on the gird in the final qualifying session. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)
McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton took third spot on the gird in the final qualifying session. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)
Jarno Trulli took second, finally qualifying a Toyota in a decent position after the team qualified miserably all season. Had Glock not crashed, Toyata might have had two in the top three.

Sebastian Vettel (C) gives a thumb up, while Jarno Trulli (L) and Lewis Hamilton celebrate after qualifying for the Formula One Japan Grand Prix. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
Sebastian Vettel (C) gives a thumb up, while Jarno Trulli (L) and Lewis Hamilton celebrate after qualifying for the Formula One Japan Grand Prix. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
Jarno Trulli said focusing on driving despite worrying about the crashed drivers was key. “It was all about keeping concentration and getting it right at the right time. It was a crazy session but the car has been performing pretty well from the beginning and for this I have to thank the team and my mechanics. They gave me the chance to fight for the top again.

“For tomorrow my only concern is tire degradation as we have seen this morning that tire degradation is very, very high. As well the start as, unfortunately, we are not known as a good starter.

“I just hope we can have a good start in the race.”

Lewis Hamilton qualified third, despite being very unhappy with his car in morning practice.

“We didn’t expect to be as competitive as we were today,” he explained. “This morning the car was terrible to drive, and we had to make some serious changes. We only had that one practice session so we had to go right into qualifying hoping that they were the right changes, and they were.”

The drivers’ championship could well be decided by Sunday’s race. Sebastian Vettel has an outside chance of surviving, but only if the Brawns finish out of the points. Button has a fifteen-point lead over Barrichello, and twenty-five over Vettel. It will take a miracle for Vettel to survive until the next race at Brazil, but obviously Vettel plans to fight as hard as he can.

Brawn could also lock up the contructors’ championship at Suzuka. Red Bull is the only team with a chance, and with Webber starting from the back and the Brawns running well, it seems likely that Button and Brawn will be crowned after the race.

But this is racing. Anything can happen, as qualifying clearly showed.

Japanese F1 Grand Prix Unofficial Grid

Pos

No

Driver

Team

1

15

Sebastian Vettel

RBR-Renault

2

9

Jarno Trulli

Toyota

3

1

Lewis Hamilton

McLaren-Mercedes

4

6

Nick Heidfeld

BMW Sauber

5

4

Kimi Räikkönen

Ferrari

6

2

Heikki Kovalainen

McLaren-Mercedes

7

16

Nico Rosberg

Williams-Toyota

8

5

Robert Kubica

BMW Sauber

9

20

Adrian Sutil

Force India-Mercedes

10

23

Rubens Barrichello

Brawn-Mercedes

11

10

Timo Glock

Toyota

12

22

Jenson Button

Brawn-Mercedes

13

11

Jaime Alguersuari

STR-Ferrari

14

3

Giancarlo Fisichella

Ferrari

15

12

Sebastien Buemi

STR-Ferrari

16

17

Kazuki Nakajima

Williams-Toyota

17

7

Fernando Alonso

Renault

18

8

Romain Grosjean

Renault

19

21

Vitantonio Liuzzi

Force India-Mercedes

20

14

Mark Webber

RBR-Renault