McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton proved that practice makes perfect, as he picked up his 19th career pole position ahead of the Formula One 2011 Korean Grand Prix. Hamilton explained what it meant to him in securing the top spot, and how he felt qualifying went ahead of the race tomorrow.
“Throughout the year, I don’t think my qualifying performances have been too bad – it’s only in the last two races that I didn’t manage to get my final run in Q3 – so today’s result wasn’t entirely unexpected… Of course, pole position is still only the first step, particularly when we know that tomorrow’s race will be long and unpredictable. Pole is always a great achievement and I’m particularly proud to have achieved it at the team’s 700th Formula 1 Grand Prix”, commented Hamilton.
The 2008 World Champion went head to head in Q3 with the newly crowned World Champion Sebastian Vettel who had to settle for second place on the grid for the race tomorrow. The Red Bull driver missed out on securing his 13th pole position this season, and 16th consecutive one for the team as a whole.
Hamilton’s team mate Jenson Button put up a good fight as he attempted to muscle in on the nail biting battle as qualifying came to a close. Initially the 2009 World Champion was the fastest driver of all,with just 10 seconds remaining of the session. However, he swiftly slipped from second place to land third position overall when Vettel snatched it from his grasp.
Consequently, the Englishman will start the race in a Red Bull sandwich as Mark Webber will be alongside him in fourth place. The Australian appeared to struggle in the final part of Q3, and decided to abort his final flying lap of the session.
As the race weekend’s festivities began with practice yesterday and the final one ahead of qualifying, the notorious Yeongam circuit was true to form and provided soggy track conditions. The wet weather reared its ugly head in the sessions leading up to today’s qualifying. Fortunately as Q1 got underway the track and weather conditions remained dry throughout.
Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna was the first man to make his mark on the first stage of the proceedings. The Brazilian driver had an unlucky start to his weekend when he spun on the exit of Turn 13 in free practice three. Consequently, the mishap resulted in damage to the front wing on his car and he also flat spotted his tyres. Despite this bad form in the final part of the practice runs, Senna has made it into the top 10 shootout three times this season.
After completing his initial warm up lap before starting his first flying one, Senna was accompanied by his Russian team mate Vitaly Petrov on the track. The pair had an early in team battle and Petrov was the first to falter under the pressure. At first Petrov had locked up his right front tyre, but went on to beat Senna to first place. Petrov was leading the field temporarily as he topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:39.406secs.
As well as Petrov and Senna representing the midfield drivers, Force India’s Paul Di Resta appeared on the track early on. The Scotsman had a good early effort, as he landed third place for himself.
Hispania Racing Vitantonio Liuzzi emerged from his garage to take on the midfield runners. The Italian driver was not able to match their pace though, and had to settle for fourth place on his first outing. Nevertheless, he soon faced tough competition from rival team Marussia Virgin Racing. Jerome D’Ambrosio was the first to nod in response to Liuzzi presence on the track. The Belgian driver could only do enough for fifth place on his initial lap of Q1.
With a bit of activity on the track in progress, the top title contenders gave the other drivers a run for their money. In an interesting turn of events both Vettel and Webber opted for the super soft tyres on their first run. It was reported that the front runners would select the soft compound, so the decision by the Red Bull team to do the contrary was interesting to observe with their pace.
Having impressed with his solid form in practice so far, Hamilton was the first of the top runners to set a lap in Q1. The Englishman inevitably topped the timesheets as a result. He crossed the line to take first place with a lap time of 1:38.278secs. Hamilton was soon joined by team mate and fellow countryman Button who came next in second place.
Despite the McLaren duo appearing fairly dominant early on, the Ferrari boys were not too far behind them. Felipe Massa snatched second place from Button, after the Brazilian driver completed his first run. With less than 12 minutes remaining of the 20 minute first session, Hamilton was still head of the line-up. Fernando Alonso also made his mark after a while. The Spaniard was in second place at that point in the second Ferrari. As a result of this, Massa was just behind him and Button dropped down to fourth place. Meanwhile, Webber and Vettel appeared slightly off the pace, which could have stemmed from their tyre choice earlier. It seemed that the pair were struggling for pace on the super soft tyre compound.
Following their initial lead before the front runners appeared, the midfield drivers had rapidly fallen down the pack. At this stage of the Q1 session Di Resta lined up in seventh place ahead of Petrov who was alongside the F1 rookie, while Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi came next in ninth place and Senna was trailing the Swiss driver. Buemi’s Spanish team mate Jaime Alguersuari was holding onto 11th place from Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Sadly, the Sauber pair were even further down the line up. Mexican driver Sergio Perez was ahead of his Japanese team mate Kamui Kobayashi who was behind him in 14th place. As with Sauber there was an in team battle for Marussia Virgin Racing at this point as well. Timo Glock had the upper hand over D’Ambrosio though, who was in front of his team mate in 15th position. Liuzzi was the last of the drivers to be out of the danger zone then, but had dropped down to 17th place.
As Q1 is famous for seeing the first seven drivers fall at the first hurdle, there were a select few who had ended up there mid-way through the session. Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher was leading the line-up in 18th place, and ahead of his team mate and fellow German Nico Rosberg. Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli came next in 20th place, followed by his team mate Heikki Kovalainen. The Finnish driver may have been behind his team mate, but Kovalainen was in front of the vulnerable Williams duo. Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello was ahead of his Venezuelan team mate Pastor Maldonado in the line-up. However, both drivers made up the back of the pack at this point.
With the clock showing half distance of Q1, Rosberg and Schumacher put a lap in to get out of the danger zone. Rosberg pipped team mate Schumacher to the better grid position then. At that stage in the line-up Rosberg had made it up to fourth place, and Schumacher was in sixth position.
While the midfield runners were attempting to improve their positions, at the very top of the pack Hamilton and Button were setting the pace. Hamilton was able to beat his earlier lap time to take first place with a lap time of 1:37.525secs, and Button followed behind him in second place. Massa was forced to drop down to fourth place, as Alonso crossed the line to get into third position. At this point in the proceedings, Webber had fallen down to seventh place and Vettel was alongside him.
The focus soon turned to the back of the field as the time was ticking further down on the clock. Trulli had taken hold of 18th place and was alongside Glock. D’Ambrosio made up this trio of the seven in the danger zone who had set a time. Unfortunately Liuzzi, Ricciardo, Barrichello and Maldonado were still to set times.
After a short interlude during Q1 Schumacher was the first to blink and took to the track. Following this attempt to improve his position the seven times World Champion got into fifth place. The next to impress with his performance of the midfield runners was Petrov who went well to take third place then.
As the clock was ticking down with less than four minutes remaining, the seven drivers at risk of bowing out at the end of Q1 did not change. The only difference came when Barrichello and Maldonado decided to put a time on the board. With less than three minutes left for them to get out of the danger zone, Barrichello made it into 14th place, and Maldonado was a little behind in 16th position.
For the drivers down the field towards the back of the pack, it was a nerve-racking few minutes as they fought to get into Q2. Perez was the first to improve on his position. Initially he had dropped to 18th place, but leapt into an impressive 10th place. As a result of this he was scrapping for position with team mate Kobayashi. Sadly, it was then Kobayashi’s turn to climb from 18th place. He only managed to improve by a few places, and got up into 15th position at this point.
Maldonado was the third driver to slip down to the curse of 18th place. In the final 50 seconds of the Q1 session he was able to get into 16th place. This followed an in team battle with Barrichello, who was at risk of dropping out in the last few seconds. The former Ferrari driver found himself in 18th place at this stage. Sadly, it was too late for Barrichello to improve on his position and he accompanied six other drivers who failed to make the grade for Q2.
Kovalainen is next in the line-up who will start the race from 19th place. Kovalainen’s Italian team mate Trulli will be alongside him in 20th position. It was a very close call between the two drivers as Trulli was just six tenths of a second behind. The Marussia Virgin Racing pair have locked out row 11 on the grid, Glock beat team mate D’Ambrosio to the higher grid slot though.
The German will begin from 21st place, and D’Ambrosio is alongside him in 22nd position. The Hispania Racing boys will resume their usual positions to make up the back of the pack. Liuzzi has the upper hand over his team mate, and will start the race from 23rd place. Meanwhile, after suffering a water leak on his car before qualifying, Ricciardo had to settle for the last place on the grid. The Australian driver failed to get out on track to set a time, and has had to face the consequences of this misfortune.
With seven less drivers on the track to tackle, Hamilton was the first to appear of the front runners. As Q2 got underway Hamilton had changed to the super soft tyres, and Vettel remained on the same compound as in Q1. Despite locking up his right front tyre on his first flying lap at Turn 16, Hamilton still took the top spot at that point. He crossed the line with a lap time of 1:36.526secs. As a result of this lap to top the timesheets, Hamilton was a second slower than the pole setting time last year. Button did make it into second place initially, but dropped down to third position when Webber made is mark. After a few minutes had gone of Q2 the line-up changed rapidly. Hamilton was still in first place, but Vettel joined him in second position, Webber came next in third place ahead of Button. Alonso was holding onto fifth place and Rosberg trailed behind him in sixth position. Massa was further off the pace of the immediate leaders, and found himself down in seventh place. Petrov, Alguersuari and Buemi rounded off the top 10 at that stage.
Before the mini break appeared in Q2, there were several drivers in the bottom seven places. Sutil led the way in 11th place ahead of team mate Di Resta. Perez was next in 13th place and he was followed by Senna in 14th position. Kobayashi, Schumacher and Maldonado completed the line-up then.
As time appeared to be against the drivers in the drop out zone, Schumacher was the first of them to emerge onto the track. The German appeared to be in a good place, as he was on a new set of super soft tyres as well. However, it appeared not to be the case after reports via the team radio. There seemed to be a concern over a possible vibration with the tyres. As he began his warm up lap, Schumacher locked up his tyres briefly. It was later announced that after flat spotting his tyres, this could have contributed to the cause. Consequently, he could only do enough for ninth place at the time.
When the clock was ticking down with less than four minutes of Q2 to go, the attention turned back to the seven place danger zone. The line-up had changed slightly as some drivers had improved on their positions. Buemi was just out of the top ten in 11th place, and Sutil was alongside him in 12th position. Di Resta was trailing his team mate and just behind in 13th place. While Perez was a little further back in 14th place, and keeping Senna at bay who was in 15th position. Kobayashi and Maldonado completed the danger zone at this point.
Meanwhile, as the driver’s positions barely changed at the front, Massa was mainly the driver on the move. In terms of set up between Massa and his team mate, Alonso appeared to have the upper hand. Unlike Massa, Alonso had the benefit of a new front wing in order to assist in improving the handling of his car. Consequently, Massa appeared to suffer the consequences of this, as he had not matched the pace of the top front runners. The situation did not seem to improve for Massa in Q2. With less than two minutes on his side to improve Massa was running in seventh place, and got delayed in traffic on his flying lap. Nevertheless, he managed to get into fifth place after his effort.
As less than 30 seconds showed on the clock the midfield drivers were rapidly running out of time. Alguersuari and Schumacher in particular were battling for position. At first Schumacher was ahead in 10th place to go through to Q3. However, Alguersuari then completed his lap to snatch the place from him. The worrying time was still not over for these drivers though, as some of their rivals were still to finish their laps. In the next head to head scrap for position Buemi and Di Resta were at the heart of the action. Di Resta promoted himself from 13th place to 10th position, and he made it into the top 10 shootout. Buemi then slipped down to 13th place and was among the seven to drop out. Schumacher slipped out at the end of Q2 as well, and will begin the race from 12th place. Alguersuari just missed out on the top 10, and will line up in 11th position. In the final bid to get through to Q3, Kobayashi and Senna came up against each other. After crossing the line to finish their laps, Kobayashi secured 14th place and Senna will start beside him in 15th position. Maldonado accompanies these drivers who lost out in Q2. As a result of this he landed 16th place for himself, while Perez picked up the final danger zone position and will line up from 17th position on the grid.
Finally, the final stage of qualifying arrived where the grid positions are hotly contested. With less than eight minutes of the 10 minute session remaining, eight out of the 10 drivers left to compete took to the track. The only team that decided to retreat to the garage at this point was Force India.
Where the main front runners were concerned, Hamilton and Massa were the first to put in their flying laps. However, they were accompanied by Rosberg, who represented the midfield early on. As he was the first to complete his initial lap Rosberg did hold the top spot temporarily. Despite this, Hamilton maintained his form from Q1 and Q2 as he topped the timesheets with his first run in Q3. To begin with Hamilton was followed by Massa, but Alonso snatched it from him and Massa slipped to third place. The running order at the top then changed further, as Hamilton and Button held first and second place. Webber then completed his flying lap to take second place from Button’s grasp. At this point of the Q3 stage Alonso and Massa were trailing in fourth and fifth place respectively. Suddenly, Vettel shuffled the line-up as he appeared to be the man on a mission. Surprisingly though, polesitter king this season, Vettel failed to take first place at that point. He was three hundredths of a second slower than Hamilton then.
As less than five minutes remained of the top 10 shootout, Hamilton led with a speedy lap time of 1:36.130secs and Vettel was just behind him in second place. Webber followed his team mate to hold onto third place ahead of Button. Alonso was the leading Ferrari in fifth place, and Massa trailing him in sixth position. Rosberg was maintaining seventh place from Petrov in eighth position. When the session got down to two minutes left the Force India pair emerged from the garage. As the closing stages of qualifying had approached, all of the cars were positioned on the track within the first sector together. Consequently, this posed a risk of traffic which was likely to affect the top title contenders.
While Hamilton had dominated the majority of qualifying, Button appeared from nowhere in the final 10 seconds of Q3. The Briton looked impressive as he was the fastest overall, as he was in the early part of his final flying lap. On the other hand, Vettel was on the chase as he was catching Di Resta, but he looked at risk of being held up in traffic then. Consequently, Vettel and Webber seemed off the pace slightly. This proved to be the case as Webber aborted his lap and returned to the pits without a last attempt.
Meanwhile, Hamilton remained on track and got down to business. He crossed the line to take provisional pole with a lap time of 1:35.820secs. Button came next but could not do enough to take the lead. As a result of this, the only threat was Vettel who had not appeared yet. However, for only the fourth time this season Vettel missed out on securing the top spot. In the process of only making the grade to take second place, Vettel did topple Button from that position. With Button starting from third place, he had ended up in a Red Bull sandwich. Webber will begin the race beside him in fourth place. The Ferrari boys locked out the third row of the grid, but Massa has the upper hand against Alonso. The pair will begin the race in fifth and sixth place respectively. Rosberg lines up next and did well to secure seventh place for himself. Petrov was not able to catch Rosberg, and had to settle for eighth place. Di Resta and Sutil make up the final two top 10 positions ahead of the race tomorrow.
Following the exciting and competitive display that the drivers put on in qualifying, it is certain that they will not disappoint in delivering something special for the second Korean Grand Prix tomorrow. However, it will not be an easy ride as last year’s debut race proved. This comes with the challenge of the unpredictable weather conditions, managing their tyres and timing of their strategy, which are all factors that are sure to play a part in deciding the winner. Although the drivers’ title has been decided and Vettel crowned the youngest ever back to back World Champion, all is still to play for between Red Bull and McLaren in the Constructor’s Championship. As a result of their performance so far this weekend Hamilton and Button look good for the race, but need to outscore Red Bull by just two points at the end of the race tomorrow. If they succeed in their mission, it will keep the competition alive until the next race at least. Nevertheless, the race is certain to be a captivating one for all to see, as Vettel will look to extend his record of victories this season, and his closest rivals will be on his tail to try and stop him in his tracks.