Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
Despite being on new territory for the first time in the Formula One 2011 season, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was true to form as he added to his pole position record, and picked up his first pole at the Buddh International Circuit ahead of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix tomorrow. The newly crowned back to back World Champion seemed to quietly cross the line, as action was still unfolding on the track behind him. Nevertheless, the master of qualifying this season has now notched up his 13th pole position this year and the 28th one of his career in the sport so far. Vettel explained how his qualifying session went and what it means to become the first pole sitter ahead of the Indian Grand Prix’s debut.
“It was an interesting qualifying session; a new circuit and a new challenge – obviously I’m very happy to be on the front row… Tomorrow is it going to be a long race, we start starting the best possible position, so we’ll see what happens,” commented Vettel.
Initially, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton ended Q3 to take second place behind the German, but after speeding under yellow flags in practice yesterday, the Englishman faces a three place grid drop. As a result of this penalty, the 2008 World Champion has slipped down to fifth place in the line-up.
Due to this change in the order at the front of the field, Vettel’s Australian team mate Mark Webber will start from second place instead of Hamilton. While Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will be the first of the other front runners to pose a threat on the unexpected Red Bull front row lock out.
As the first stage of qualifying got underway, there were early signs that the new surroundings took a bit of time to get to grips with. Force India’s Paul Di Resta was among the first of the drivers to take to the track. The Scotsman’s first effort as he flew the flag for the Indian team, led the F1 rookie to land fourth place in the running order. However, of the midfield runners on the scene at the time, Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov was the man to head the timesheets at the start. The Russian driver took first place with a lap time of 1:30.347secs.
The Team Lotus duo from the back of the field came next, with Heikki Kovalainen ahead of his Italian team mate Jarno Trulli. Moments later into the early stages of Q1, it looked like Petrov had close competition from his rivals. Bruno Senna in the second Lotus Renault crossed the line to take first place from him. The Brazilian driver took the top spot temporarily with a time of 1:29.952secs. This change in the running order also created an interesting in team battle between some of the midfield runners. Adrian Sutil’s first attempt in the second Force India led him to second place behind Senna. The battle to take first place between these drivers began to heat up as the session progressed.
Petrov went on to improve on his previous first place lap, and caused Senna to quickly slip to second. Petrov’s effort at this point put him back to the top with a lap time of 1:29.035secs. Meanwhile, the Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari also emerged from the pits to muscle in on the midfield battle. The Spaniard crossed the line after his first flying lap to take third place. Although there were reports before the session had barely started that Williams and Sauber were particularly struggling for grip, Pastor Maldonado then appeared to represent the Williams team. The Venezuelan driver landed fifth place after completing his first run.
Despite the midfield making their mark early on in Q1, it was not long before the top title contenders got down to business. Alonso was the first of the front runners to put a time on the board. The Spaniard inevitably pipped the rest of the field and took first place with a lap time of 1:27.836secs. Alonso’s Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa came next to keep him on his toes, while Hamilton had to settle for third place in the line-up at this point. However, Hamilton’s hold on the position was short lived when Vettel had completed his first flying lap to take third place. As a result of Vettel’s appearance Hamilton dropped down to fourth place.
With the top Championship contenders on the track, this had a knock on effect for the midfield runners as well. Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi was the leader among them in fifth place ahead of Petrov who was on the Swiss driver’s tail. Buemi’s team mate Alguersuari was maintaining seventh place at the time, with Di Resta behind him in eighth position. Senna and Sutil rounded off the top 10 positions in the running order at this stage of Q1.
Before the danger zone of the seven drivers potentially bowing out, several in the field had leapt ahead of this vulnerable line up. Hispania Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was running well in 11th place and in front of his team mate Narain Karthikeyan. As a result of Karthikeyan taking part in the proceedings, he is the sole driver representing his country on home soil this weekend. Unlike the Indian’s fellow countryman Karun Chandhok, who missed out on the opportunity to race for Team Lotus. Sadly the UK based team took the decision to keep Jarno Trulli in his usual race seat over Chandhok.
Meanwhile, after a quarter of the first session over, some drivers found themselves further down the field. Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher was holding onto 13th place with Maldonado following behind the German. Trulli and Kovalainen were the final two drivers who were managing to keep away from the drop out zone. Surprisingly, Schumacher’s team mate and fellow countryman Nico Rosberg was among those potentially in a vulnerable place at this point. Marussia Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock and Jerome D’Ambrosio came next in the line-up. Rubens Barrichello in the second Williams was also in the mix, together with Webber who was also yet to set a time. The Sauber pair of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez were also in the same situation.
Although a select few drivers were initially in danger, some of them did emerge from the pits to improve their position in the running order. Webber was the first to impress as he took first place with his attempt. He crossed the line with a time of 1:27.410secs which temporarily gave him the lead. At this stage of the Q1 session Alonso, Massa and Button followed behind Webber. On the other hand, it was not long before Vettel showed what he is made of. The polesitter king soon completed another lap and took first place on this occasion. He pipped the previous times that had been set to take the lead with a time of 1:26.948secs.
While the action at the front of the field was heating up, the seven potential drivers to fall at the first hurdle were still trying to better their attempts. The line-up with less than 11 minutes remaining of Q1 read as follows: Kovalainen was running in 18th place ahead of Karthikeyan, and Trulli was holding onto 20th position from Glock. D’Ambrosio, Kobayashi and Perez then completed the seven drivers in danger at this point.
When Q1 had reached half distance on the clock, Schumacher was one driver in particular who was attempting to improve on his position. The seven time World Champion appeared to struggle as he locked up his left front tyre which caused him to run wide on the final corner. Despite this minor mishap Schumacher did enough to take 10th place then.
Towards the front of the field though the likes of Hamilton and Vettel did not appear to be one of the seven casualties at the end of Q1. On the other hand, the pair were scrapping for first place instead. Initially Hamilton took the lead after completing another lap. He seemed to have the upper hand at first as he set a time of 1:26.563secs. However, Vettel then beat this time when he snatched first place from Hamilton with a lap of 1:26.218secs. Alonso was running in third place at this point, from team mate Massa trailing behind him. Rosberg was on Massa’s tail and maintaining fifth place from Webber, while Hamilton’s team mate Jenson Button appeared to be having a mixture of ups and downs.
The 2009 World Champion was running in eighth place, when he tried to improve on this with another lap. However, in his attempts to do so, the Englishman ran wide on the exit of Turn nine. Despite having a slight wobble Button completed the lap to take seventh place then. Following Button’s lap to get him into safety, he reported via the team radio that he was struggling for rear tyre grip. Button’s situation worsened as the session was nearing the end. With less than three minutes remaining on the clock he was under pressure when he dropped down to 15th place. Fortunately, as the chequered flag waved to allow him to complete his lap, Button secured third place to take himself through to Q2.
As well as Button having his fair share of problems, the situation for Glock looked quite bleak. The German had made it out on track earlier to set a time, but it was later reported that his car had suffered a gearbox failure. His chances of taking part in the race tomorrow are still in the balance as the 107% Q1 time was 1:32.222secs. Whereas Glock’s only lap time of the session was slightly adrift with a 1:34.046secs. Under the FIA regulations if a driver does not qualify within the first fastest Q1 time, then they may not be permitted to participate in the race. Unless the race stewards decide against him, Glock will begin the race from 23rd place. Before Q1 came to an end and Senna was one of the final few drivers who completed their last minute laps. With less than five minutes remaining on the clock Senna appeared to get stuck behind one of the Toro Rosso drivers on the pit exit. At this nail biting stage of Q1 for Senna, he was running in 18th place at the time. Luckily, Senna did make it through to compete in Q2 though.
Schumacher was another driver in the field who had last minute problems in Q1 as well. Between Turns 10 and 11 on the track Schumacher got stuck behind Karthikeyan. As a result of this there were reports speculating that the incident may catch the stewards’ attention, if Karthikeyan was impeding Schumacher, and the holdup had cost him valuable time to complete his last lap. Nonetheless, Schumacher was one of the lucky ones to make it through to Q2 as well.
Consequently, seven drivers failed to make the grade and will make up the back of the grid. Surprisingly, Kobayashi is one of these in the line-up. The Japanese driver could only do enough for 18th place. Kovalainen will start alongside him in 19th position. The Finnish driver has now out qualified team mate Trulli in 14 of the last 16 races this season. As a result of this impressive record that Kovalainen holds, Trulli had to settle for qualifying in 20th place. Meanwhile, between the final two teams at the back of the field, Ricciardo managed to finish in 21st place ahead of team mate Karthikeyan. With this result in mind it means that Hispania Racing have beaten Marussia Virgin Racing for the first time since their debut in the sport. Subsequently D’Ambrosio will be the first of the two drivers, and the Belgian driver completed Q1 in 23rd place in front of Glock.
On the other hand, due to Perez being issued the same penalty as Hamilton faces, there is a bit of a shakeup in the qualifying line up at the back of the field as well. Although Perez made it through to Q2, the positions have changed with his move further down the field. From Kobayashi now to start the race from 17th place, the line-up follows with Kovalainen in 18th place, Trulli in 19th position and ahead of Perez in 20th place. Karthikeyan will start from 21st place in front of D’Ambrosio. Glock and Ricciardo will be trailing behind in 23rd and 24th place respectively.
Following the stewards investigation after qualifying between Schumacher and Karthikeyan, a five place grid penalty has been issued to Karthikeyan. The stewards reviewed the incident and decided that Karthikeyan had blocked Schumacher, which caused him to slow down unnecessarily and he lost time on his final flying lap. Subsequently, Karthikeyan will now start the race from 23rd place. Glock will be just behind him in 24th position, while D’Ambrosio also changes places and will start from 21st position, just one place in front of Ricciardo.
As the middle stage of qualifying got the green light the midfield runners set the pace first like Q1. Petrov was among those to complete a first flying lap but he ran wide at the exit of Turn six, and could only manage third place at the time. However, Alguersuari was the man on a mission as he crossed the line to take first place with a time of 1:26.668secs. As Senna managed to pip team mate Petrov, he finished in second place on his first run. On the other hand, Buemi soon spoilt the party for his team mate who temporarily had the lead. Buemi did not take long to get round the track and snatch first place with a time of 1:26.408secs. Consequently, this saw Alguersuari slip down to second place, followed by Senna and Petrov.
Despite the exciting competition between the midfield drivers they continued to battle with the dusty conditions on the track before the top title contenders appeared. Vettel did not leave it long before he put on a show stopping performance, which led him to drop off the midfield drivers who had initially climbed to the top. On his first attempt of Q2, Vettel topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:24.657secs. Vettel was soon accompanied by Webber who took second place early on. Hamilton followed behind him in third place and had Alonso on his tail. Massa was in fifth place to start with, but Rosberg pipped his lap time to snatch the place from him. Rosberg’s team mate Schumacher was not too far out of reach either, as he was maintaining seventh place from Buemi then. Alguersuari and Petrov were keeping their hold on ninth and 10th position at this stage.
However, where the drop out zone was concerned, there were once again a few surprises in the line-up. Barrichello was just outside the top 10 in 11th place. The Brazilian driver was fighting off competition from team mate, Maldonado who came next in 12th place. Senna was a little behind in 13th place, and accompanied by Button who appeared to be struggling in 14th position. Nonetheless, Button went on to better his situation and leapt into third place after this. Before his promotion into the top 10 area, Sutil was trailing Button in 15th place, and was in close company with team mate Di Resta just behind him.
With less than eight minutes remaining on the clock of Q2, Sutil, Di Resta and Perez were three drivers who were yet to emerge from the pits and set a time. As time was against the seven drivers in the danger zone, the line up there only changed slightly. From Petrov now running in 11th place at this point, he was followed by Barrichello, Maldonado, Senna, Sutil, Di Resta and Perez.
As the session was nearing the closing stages, Senna in particular was struggling for grip and stayed in 14th position for a while. However, when Di Resta took to the track and made his attempt to get into Q3 he improved his position to hold 12th place to start with. Towards the front of the field though, the battle was just as close. Within the top 10 positions, there was a three-way fight commencing. Buemi had a mishap and ran wide on his flying lap, which led the way for Schumacher to split the Toro Rosso drivers. The line-up in the latter top 10 places then read as Alguersuari in eighth position, Schumacher was next ahead of Buemi who maintained the final place.
Back in the drop out zone area as only a minute was showing on the clock, seven drivers still found themselves at risk of bowing out. Petrov was leading the line-up in 11th place, ahead of Di Resta, Sutil, Barrichello, Maldonado, Senna and Perez.
Unfortunately, time was running out for the seven drivers, as they fought for a place in the ultimate top 10 shootout. Initially, Buemi was the first to impress as he held off opposition to keep eighth place. However, Sutil made sure that this did not stay the same in the end. The German jumped into the top 10 to snatch eighth place, which meant Buemi dropped down to ninth place. Alguersuari was particularly vulnerable as he was running in 10th place then, and Schumacher was just behind him in 11th position. As the drivers took their final opportunities to get through to Q3, a three horse race commenced. Initially Maldonado secured 12th place, which was still out of the top 10. Di Resta then claimed 12th position from Maldonado who fell down the order. On the other hand, Schumacher soon did the same over Di Resta. He then took 12th place from Di Resta, and Schumacher went one better. Although Schumacher did not manage to secure a higher position, he did improve on his lap time after this first attempt in any case.
After the chequered flag waved to mark the end of Q2 there were inevitably seven drivers who missed out on the final shootout. Consequently the line up from Petrov in 11th place read as follows: Schumacher in 12th place, and Di Resta came next in 13th position ahead of Maldonado, while Senna pipped Barrichello to 15th position. Perez was the last of the field in the line-up, who did not have enough pace to get themselves into Q3.
Petrov will not start from 11th place as a result of the five place grid penalty from the Korean race, following his having contact with Schumacher. The German has been promoted to 11th place with the shuffle in the line-up. Di Resta comes next and will start from 12th position ahead of Maldonado. Senna and Barrichello will begin the race from 14th and 15th position respectively, while Petrov is forced to serve his penalty and will begin from 16th place.
When the final battle arrived to start the top 10 shootout, an in-team scrap over the lead formed between Massa and Alonso. To begin with Massa took first place with a lap time of 1:25.122secs. Sadly, Massa could not hold off competition from Alonso who snatched the top spot from him with a lap time of 1:24.586secs. Hamilton was the nearest of the other front runners to pose a threat on the Ferrari dominance at this point. Webber was next in the line up and running in fourth place. It was not long before Hamilton and Vettel went head to head for position though. Vettel was yet to set a lap in Q3 and Hamilton was aiming to improve on his previous one. Unfortunately Hamilton lost out and could not match Vettel’s temporary pole sitting time of 1:24.437secs. Alonso, Massa and Webber made the few places following on from the top two drivers.
After suffering a lack of grip on his tyres in qualifying earlier on, Button emerged from the pits on his final set of new soft compound rubber. At this point in Q3 the leading four drivers were Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and Alonso. Inevitably, time was running out for the front runners to compete for pole position. The competition between the top four with less than five minutes left, was so close that only a tenth of a second separated these drivers.
In the meantime, the midfield drivers who had successfully got through to Q3, were having a scrap of their own to get higher grid positions than each other. In particular Sutil and Rosberg were at the forefront of the action. Rosberg appeared to have the upper hand over his Championship rival though, when he managed to secure sixth place at the time over Sutil. Consequently, Rosberg found himself just 1.6secs away from pole position holder Vettel then.
As less than a minute of Q3 was remaining, there was concern as to whether Button and Hamilton would get their last laps in. Button was the first of the pair to cross the line in time, but Hamilton appeared to abort his lap in any case and returned to the pits. When it looked like all of the qualifying action was over, and Vettel had his hold on the pole position spot, Massa suddenly ended up in the gravel at Turn nine. It appeared that he had right front suspension failure to his car. As a result of Massa’s incident, it seemed to hamper the other drivers on track. Anyone attempting to complete their final flying lap had to slow down under the yellow flags to signal Massa’s incident. On the other hand, Vettel was still able to clinch pole in any case and did so with a lap time of 1:24.178secs.
While Hamilton qualified in second place, he rapidly dropped to fifth position as a result of his penalty. This change in positions led Webber to take over second place, from Alonso who will start from third position. Button will start the race from fourth place ahead of Hamilton who is going to be just behind him. After his mishap as qualifying was nearly over, Massa will begin the Grand Prix from sixth place and in front of Rosberg. As the only Force India to make it through to the top 10, Sutil will fly the flag for the team on home soil from eighth place. Buemi succeeds team mate Alguersuari to the higher grid slot and will start the race from an impressive ninth place. However, Alguersuari is just going to be alongside him as he takes the final top 10 position.
Following an eventful and close battle in the first qualifying session ahead of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, Vettel has already demonstrated that by picking up another pole position, that he is not showing any signs of being nervous about racing on unfamiliar territory.
Although he has already clinched the Drivers’ title and helped Red Bull become back to back Constructors’ Champions, it is certain that Vettel would like to become the first winner of the Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit. On the other hand, Vettel will have his closest rivals on his tail who are all battling for second place in the Drivers’ Championship. It is still very much an even competition between Button, Webber, Alonso and Hamilton. Inevitably, any one of those drivers is still in contention for securing second place behind Vettel. As they go head to head in the race and seek to pick up the best result possible to add to their campaigns, like Vettel they will have the challenge of a new circuit to contend with, including the risk of tyre wear, possibility of incidents and racing in the heat which are all factors that will come into play.