Qualifying has always been one of the most exciting elements of a Grand Prix weekend, despite going through numerous changes of procedure over the years. However, it’s fair to say that although the excitement has definitely not been missing this season on a Saturday afternoon, picking the top six cars on the grid has not been a difficult task. The three teams at the top of the championship table have monopolised the front three rows.
Sebastian Vettel has had the lion’s share of pole positions, with no less than twelve to his name while team-mate Mark Webber took the other three to date. But today, at the sixteenth attempt, the Red Bull monopoly has been broken, as Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the final part of the session for McLaren. Alongside him we find Sebastian Vettel, while the second row features their respective team-mates, with Jenson Button in third spot and Mark Webber fourth.
All this means that, as expected, the Prancing Horse jockeys have the third row to themselves and after going quicker than his team-mate in Japan one week ago, Felipe Massa again took his 150º Italia round the 5.615 kilometre Korean International Circuit fractionally faster than Fernando Alonso. It means Lewis, Jenson and Felipe have the real edge of leaving the grid from the clean side of the track tomorrow. Since Suzuka, there are definite signs that the all-conquering Red Bulls are not quite as dominant as in past races and tyre wear seems to be their current weakness, where weakness has to be a relative term, since Vettel and Webber finished third and fourth in Japan! Therefore there is no reason to think that Felipe and Fernando cannot aim for a podium finish again tomorrow.
The weather could be an important feature: although the forecast is for another dry day, it’s the amount of sunshine and how much it will warm up the track surface that could hold the key to tomorrow’s race, as the amount of tyre degradation we can expect is hard to predict with any degree of accuracy, after Friday’s practice sessions did not allow for slick tyre running. Last year’s inaugural Korean Grand Prix is already in the record books as the second longest Formula 1 race in the history of the championship: it lasted 12 minutes short of three hours with various stoppages when the rain was just too heavy to allow the cars to run, even behind the Safety Car. That’s an unlikely scenario for tomorrow, but an intriguing dry weather battle looks on the cards.