Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
- Vettel secures 12th pole position at Suzuka
- Button, Hamilton take second and third place
- Problems for both Liuzzi and Rosberg
For round 15 of the FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One 2011 season, reigning World Champion, Sebastian Vettel clinched the top spot in the final seconds of the pole position shootout. By securing first place ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix tomorrow, the Red Bull driver secured his 12th pole position of the season at Suzuka.
Vettel expressed his feelings on today’s qualifying session, and ahead of the race tomorrow when he could retain his title of World Champion.
“There wasn’t much between me and Jenson! I want to say thanks to the team and the factory for getting another front wing out for me, I would not sit here now without them, so I’m very happy and proud. Regarding one point or no point tomorrow, I’m not focusing on that… Tomorrow is a long race and it’s challenging; I’m looking forward to it,” explained Vettel.
In doing so, the German also brought second placeman Jenson Button’s perfect start to his weekend to a standstill. The McLaren driver had topped the timesheets in all of the free practice sessions leading up to today’s qualifying session. Despite Vettel having a mishap and crashing yesterday, he delivered today when it counted and Button missed out on pole. The Englishman was nine thousandths of a second away from catching the polesitter. However, all is not lost for the 2009 World Champion, as he still starts the race on the front row of the grid.
Meanwhile, Button’s fellow countryman and team mate Lewis Hamilton will just be on his tail in third position. Unfortunately, Hamilton narrowly appeared to miss the final window to complete his lap as qualifying came to a close. It seemed that the 2008 World Champion was caught napping briefly by sixth placeman, Mark Webber in the second Red Bull, who was able to slip past him and set his lap.
Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher also suffered the same fate as Hamilton. The seven times World Champion was seen running wide and he went off the track momentarily before the last corner. At this point it appeared that the German and Hamilton got in the way of each other, which put both drivers at a disadvantage in different ways. Nevertheless, Schumacher still had a reasonable result from Q3, and will start the race from seventh position.
Sadly, Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes did not have quite as much success as his team mate and fellow countryman. While the majority of the field were on track setting times, there were a select few including Rosberg, who did not appear to be taking part initially as Q1 got underway. Consequently, these drivers found themselves in the drop zone territory within five minutes of the session beginning. Marussia Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock was leading the pack in 18th place, ahead of his Belgian team mate and one of the five rookies in F1 this season, Jerome d’Ambrosio. Hispania Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo came next in 20th position and was in front of Rosberg. Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna was also yet to set a time as he lined up alongside the German. Team Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen followed the Brazilian in the line-up at the time, while the second Hispania Racing driver Vitantonio Liuzzi was maintaining the final place at the back of the pack.
While seven drivers in the field were yet to take part in Q1, Kovalainen’s Italian team mate Jarno Trulli was the first of those who got going early on. Although he experienced slight under steer during his initial flying lap, Trulli opted to use his DRS to assist him in setting the pace to start with. As the first runner round the Suzuka circuit, Trulli managed to set a time of 1:36.571secs.
Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov was also in a similar situation to Trulli, as both of their team mates were not yet following the trend to get out on track. The Russian crossed the line to get one step ahead of Trulli and took first place at the time. In doing so, Petrov recorded a lap time of 1:34.045secs. Surprisingly, Petrov found himself to still be leading, even as the front runners emerged to add their laps to the timesheets.
Force India’s Paul di Resta was the first to potentially pose a threat to Petrov, but the F1 rookie could only do enough to take second place at the time. The Scotsman crossed the line with a lap time of 1:34.998secs. Di Resta’s team mate Adrian Sutil soon made his mark on him after completing his first run. The German followed behind leader Vettel, who was the sole front runner on the track at that point. Vettel took first place with ease, which saw the early runners slip down in the running order. Vettel initial attempt topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:33.051secs. For a short while, Vettel was able to hold onto the lead. Webber failed to catch his team mate, as the Australian trailed Vettel by a tenth of a second.
As well as an in team battle forming between Red Bull, the same could be said for McLaren. Even with 15 minutes of the session still remaining, Hamilton appeared to be under pressure to match Button’s strong pace. Hamilton had a slight wobble at Spoon corner. As a result of this vulnerability that Hamilton demonstrated, he only did enough to get fifth place at this point in Q1. However, Button was ahead of his team mate, as he impressed with his early run to take second place then. At this point in time Ferrari made their presence known on their rival front runners. Fernando Alonso was particularly the one to watch. The Spaniard pipped Button to the top spot and improved on Vettel’s earlier first place time. Alonso went on to head the timesheets with a lap time of 1:32.817secs. On the other hand, Alonso’s Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa failed to match this quick pace, and ended up in fifth place at this stage.
When the clock was ticking down mid-way through Q1, Alonso was still the one to beat even though Hamilton eventually found his feet. Although he could not go fast enough to improve on Alonso’s time, Hamilton was a tenth of a second quicker than Button for the first time this weekend. Hamilton’s lap time at this moment was a 1:32.843secs compared to Button’s of 1:32.947secs.
At the front of the field where the title contenders were concerned, the drivers seemed to have everything under control and were battling it out for position. The competition between them was so tight that the top six were only four tenths of a second apart.
Sadly, it was not the case for a couple of the midfield drivers and towards the back of the pack. After being reported earlier in the session that several drivers in the danger zone had not completed a lap, Senna and Rosberg were having technical issues in their garages. The Lotus Renault team were doing essential repairs to his car, while Rosberg was having problems too. At this point in Q1 it was not known what the issue was for Rosberg.
After a quick tyre change and most of the field opting for the soft tyre compound, di Resta was the first to blink and head out on track again. He is among the small group of rookies making their F1 debut this season and for the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend. With less than five minutes of the session remaining, di Resta impressed with his performance as he went from 13th place to seventh position. Shortly after this good form that Di Resta showed, Senna was also able to get a lap in and ended up behind him in eighth place.
There were less than two minutes of Q1 to go, when it was confirmed that Rosberg’s situation would not improve. It was reported that his car had a suspected hydraulic failure, which prevented him from getting out on track. As a result of this, Rosberg could not take part in any qualifying, and will start the race from 23rd place. Rosberg was not alone to suffer early on into his race weekend, as Liuzzi also failed to set a time in qualifying. The Italian had reportedly experienced an engine misfire, and had only managed to complete 12 laps round the circuit so far into the weekend. Consequently, he will start the race just behind Rosberg, and lines up at the back of the pack in 24th position.
Meanwhile, for those still battling out towards the end of Q1, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi was the surprise for the rest of the field and spectators. The Japanese driver will be flying the flag for his country this weekend when he races on home soil on Sunday. The local hero stormed to first place as Q1 came to a close. Kobayashi crossed the line with a lap time of 1:32.626secs. In doing so, he got ahead of Sutil who was just behind in second place.
Alonso was in third position in front of Hamilton. Petrov pipped Button to fifth place in the first line up. Vettel had dropped down to seventh place and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi was just behind him in eighth position. Webber came next in ninth place ahead of Massa in 10th position.
With the sudden change in the line-up, as a couple of drivers got into the top ten, Senna slipped out but still made it through to Q2. Di Resta was 12th in the line-up just in front of Schumacher in 13th place. The Williams pair seemed to have a quiet Q1, and rookie Pastor Maldonado was ahead of his team mate Rubens Barrichello. Unlike his team mate at the front of the field at the end of Q1, Sergio Perez in the second Sauber ended up in 16th place then. The Mexican driver is also suffering with Japanese flu, so he is not feeling his usual self this weekend. Jaime Alguersuari was the final driver to make it through to Q2. The Spaniard did not match the pace of his Swiss team mate Buemi though.
As well as Rosberg and Liuzzi already bowing out at the end of Q1, there were five other drivers who failed to make the grade. As a result of this, Kovalainen will start in front of his rivals in 18th place, and his team mate Trulli is just alongside in 19th position. Marussia Virgin Racing team mates, d’Ambrosio and Glock line up next in 20th and 21st place respectively. Ricciardo will start the race just behind the pair in 23rd place.
When the 10 minute session of Q2 got the go ahead, Sutil, Vettel, Button and Webber were the first few drivers to take to the track. In the initial head to head between the front runners, Webber took first place ahead of Button by a hundredth of a second. Vettel then crossed the line to display his usual qualifying form, and snatched the lead from Webber. In doing so, Vettel topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:31.424secs. Hamilton also muscled in on the action soon after and put Vettel into second place as a result. Hamilton recorded a speedy lap time of 1:31.139secs.
With less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock of Q2, some of the midfield runners made an appearance, while the top title contenders were dominating the top spots. Following his surprising lead at the end of Q1, Kobayashi attempted to spoil the party once again. Sadly, his initial run in Q2 was not enough and he lined up in seventh place at the time.
The Ferrari duo also seemed out of the picture, after Alonso had led earlier on in qualifying. Alonso was running in fifth place ahead of team mate Massa in sixth position. Petrov lined up next in seventh place in front of Buemi in eighth position. Kobayashi had slipped down to ninth place, and was holding off Sutil in 10th position.
Meanwhile, Schumacher, di Resta and Perez were the only three who had not yet set a time. Of the trio, Schumacher then appeared with only seven minutes of Q2 left. His effort at this point led him to take seventh position. The drop zone then read as follows: Kobayashi was in 11th place ahead of Sutil. Senna and Barrichello were maintaining 13th and 14th place respectively. Barrichello’s Venezuelan team mate, Maldonado came next in the line-up and was in 15th place. Di Resta and Perez were the final two, as they had not left their garages.
During the mini break in Q2, the tyre wear came into discussion. There was speculation as to whether or not the front runners would go out again, or stay in their garages and save their tyres for the race. With less than three minutes of Q2 to go, it was not clear what their decision would be. Among the drivers the midfield ones decided to move first. Maldonado took to the track for another flying lap, and this effort led him to ninth place at the time. It seemed that the Toro Rosso duo would not do a further run, as both cars remained in the garage. This was good for several midfield runners, including Maldonado, Petrov and Kobayashi who did go out again.
Di Resta and Sutil seemed to make the same decision as Alguersuari and Buemi, as the Force India drivers did not emerge from their garage either. After completing his final flying lap, Kobayashi ended up in eighth position but soon lost this place. Petrov and Senna got ahead of him and were in eighth and ninth place respectively. Sutil, di Resta and Barrichello all decided to make a final appearance, but their efforts did not amount to much. Sadly, they were part of the line-up of seven drivers to drop out at the end of Q2.
Consequently, Sutil will start from 11th place and ahead of his team mate Di Resta. The Williams duo are next with Barrichello leading in 13th place from Maldonado. Buemi will start just behind him in 15th place, and his team mate Alguersuari follows in 16th position. To add to Perez’s difficult weekend already and suffering with flu, he will begin the race from 17th place. It was reported that his car had hydraulic problems, which meant he could not compete in Q2.
When the final stage arrived and the top 10 shootout began, it seemed that Kobayashi was eager to please his home crowd. He was the first to get out on track, but did not stay out for long. Although he had set some sector times, Kobayashi decided to abort the lap and not improve on his position. This decision was an indication that like many of the field, he may have wanted to preserve his tyres for the race.
Nevertheless, the front runners still battled it out to entertain the spectators. Hamilton took provisional pole to start with. He recorded a lap time of 1:30.617secs. Massa came next in second place, but dropped to third when Button came through. The line-up then changed round again but Hamilton was still leading. Button was maintaining second place ahead of Vettel who was in third position. Webber was in fourth place at the time, and holding off Massa who was just behind in fifth position. As the clock displayed just three and a half minutes until the session was over, there were no cars out on the track for a short while. However, as less than two minutes remained of Q3, the front runners and some midfield drivers came out again.
At the top of the pack Vettel and Alonso were the first to go head to head for pole position. With less than 20 seconds to go of Q3, the chequered flag was waved and Schumacher and Hamilton could not complete their flying laps. Despite this Vettel was still very much in the picture, and Alonso was chasing him down for the top spot. Vettel then temporarily resumed his normal position as reigning polesitter this season. His flying lap led him to top the timesheets with a time of 1:30.466secs. Button was next to cross the line, but he could not match Vettel’s pace. Button had to settle for second place and Hamilton ended up behind him in third position. The Ferrari duo will begin the race with Massa ahead of Alonso in fourth and fifth position respectively. Webber trails them and will start from sixth place.
Schumacher made it into the top 10 as well, and landed himself seventh place ahead of the Grand Prix. Senna, Petrov and Kobayashi round off the top 10 final grid positions. Following today’s close qualifying session, the race proceedings tomorrow look just as exciting. It is certain that from pole position, Vettel will be suitably placed to run away with the lead. However, as he bids to become the ninth back to back World Champion in F1 history tomorrow, he will have the likes of Button in particular, who is the only driver who can prevent him from taking the World title again.
There are also the other factors to consider as Vettel aims to pick up the one Championship point he needs, such as the tyre wear in the race and challenge that the circuit will pose, in addition to the threat of his Championship rivals baring down on him.