Vettel just one day away from second title
Sebastian Vettel is just one day away from claiming his second World Championship after claiming pole position ahead of tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The German needs only one point to become the sport’s youngest ever World Champion.
‘What a qualifying,’ exclaimed Vettel. ‘It was a tough qualifying, but I enjoyed it a lot.’
Sebastian Vettel – double world champion (soon)
‘Yesterday I went off in free practice, so it wasn’t ideal in the afternoon to repair the car today. I think we suffered from that a little this morning.
‘We were too slow. [But] we sat down after the practice session this morning and fortunately got everything together.
‘Very happy, very proud, we were able to extract everything we had today, which was just enough.’
Despite this, it was McLaren that opened the Q3 early, with Hamilton and Button posting times good enough for first and second on the grid. Vettel and Webber slotted in just behind them, less than half a second behind.
Critically, both teams fitted their cars with used option tyres, such was their inclination to save tyres.
Unexpectedly high levels of tyre wear discovered over the course of race simulations on Friday and Saturday spooked a number of teams into conservative tyre use for qualifying, so much so that some teams neglected to run at all.
It looked briefly as if McLaren might be able to stop the season-long qualifying dominance from Red Bull. Somewhat predictably, however, it amounted to nought, with ol’ reliable Sebastian Vettel taking P1 into race day.
Jenson Button came painfully close, with only nine-thousandths of a second separating him from the 2011 champion-in-waiting.
‘It’s been a pretty good weekend. I think we all do love driving around here,’ said Button, who is the only driver within mathematical contention of winning the title.
‘When you’ve got a car that’s working around here it’s a great feeling.
‘I felt like I got everything out of the car. [But] we were nine-thousands not good enough.’
Lewis Hamilton was tipped to be the man to beat, but he was sent from his pit garage too late to post a second fast lap at the end of the session. He was relegated to third.
‘The team’s done a fantastic job to get us here,’ said a quiet, downbeat Hamilton. ‘To be able to compete with the Red Bulls on this sort of circuit is great.’
Hamilton said little else afterwards.
Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso put their cars into P4 and P5 respectively, ahead of Mark Webber in the second Red Bull. The Australian seemingly encountered problems on his last flying lap, his best time almost a second off the ultimate pace.
The rest of the top ten failed to set a competitive time, with Schumacher, Senna, Petrov and home favourite Kobayashi all choosing tyres over grid position.
‘My looking forward to the race, not the point.’
After Q3, despite being in the best possible position to claim the championship, Vettel remained focussed on the race, and not the title.
‘I had a lesson from yesterday. For just a little moment I wasn’t 100 per cent focussed and I lost the car,’ said Vettel. ‘Point or no point, I’m not really focussing on that.’
‘Tomorrow’s a long race, I’m looking forward tot he race, it’s special.’
Bruno Senna was at risk of being unable to set a qualifying time after he crashed his Renault half way through FP3 earlier in the day, destroying most of the car’s front end.
His mechanics needed most of Q1 to rebuild the car, with the Brazilian leaving the pits for his first lap with barely four minutes to spare. Sorted with a pair of Pirelli soft tyres, he moved comfortably made into Q2.
The battle to avoid the first round of eliminations would fizzle out anticlimactically, however, with Nico Rosberg being a surprise inclusion into the bottom seven.
The German failed to set a time with his Mercedes suffering from a hydraulic problem. His team failed to provide any further detail on the problem.
Rosberg will start from P23, one ahead of the only other non-qualifier Tonio Liuzzi from HRT. It was originally thought that the backmarker had opted to save the maximum number of tyres for race day, but it was later revealed that Liuzzi’s car had suffered from an engine failure.
From P20, it was Kovalinen, Trulli, d’Ambrosio, Glock and Ricciardo who qualified just ahead of Rosberg and Liuzzi, and were likewise barred from Q2.
Q2 provided a clearly picture of the frontrunners’ true pace, with Red Bull and McLaren trading fastest times throughout the session. Sebastian Vettel was able to hold Jenson Button at bay for a short while by one-thousandth of a second.
However, Lewis Hamilton subsequently took their times and improved on them to the tune of three-tenths to claim the meaningless prize of fastest man in the second session.
Worry over the unexpected levels of tyre degradation took hold by Q2, with both Paul di Resta and Sergio Perez enacting stringent rubber-saving strategies
Force India had di Resta set just one flying lap at the very end of the session, while Sauber elected not to run Perez at all, leaving him with no choice but start from 17th on the grid.
A late flurry of runs saw places 11 to 17 change rapidly, but it would be Sutil, di Resta Barrichello, Maldonado, Buemi and Alguersuari who would be caught out, joining the Mexican in the second knock-out zone.
Lights go out on the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka at 5PM ADST tomorrow evening.