Title leader in control ahead of team-mate Webber as Hülkenberg grabs surprise third for Sauber on Italian GP grid.
Sebastian Vettel claimed his fourth pole position of the season with a convincing march to the front of the Monza grid ahead of Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber and surprise third-fastest man Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber.
“Generally this weekend, the car [has been] fantastic,” said Vettel. “I think better than what we could expect. We had very strong pace yesterday and we were able to take that into the qualifying today. I had two good runs. In the end I think it’s a bit of a surprise to have both cars on the front row at a place where historically we’ve had bad years. This year it seems to work well and hopefully we’ll have a good race from where we start tomorrow.”
After finishing Friday’s opening practice fourth quickest, Vettel then rose to the top and has been the undisputed fastest man at Monza in each of the subsequent session. He completed Friday afternoon’s practice at the top of the timesheet by a margin of six tenths of a second and then on Saturday morning finished final practice ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso by almost three tenths of a second. It was no surprise to see the defending champion carry that dominance through to qualifying.
Vettel: In the end I think it’s a bit of a surprise to have both cars on the front row at a place where historically we’ve had bad years.
Vettel powered through Q1 in P1, a segment in which only he, Webber, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Alonso had the luxury of using just the hard tyre. At the back of the field, the Marussia and Caterhams departed in order, with Jules Bianchi beating team-mate Max Chilton to 21st and Giedo van der Garde taking 19th ahead of Charles Pic. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Sauber’s Esteban Gutiérrez also left the stage at this point.
It was better news for the remaining Sauber driver. Hülkenberg was enjoying his afternoon at the high-speed circuit and breeze through to Q2 in tenth place. It was a sign of further strong pace to come.
Q2 saw Vettel on top again, the German slotting into P1 with his first timed lap of the segment and then bettering it by three tenths to ease through to the final top-10 shoot-out with a time of 1:23.977.
The session was far less comfortable for others. The Lotus cars of Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean were eliminated in P11 and P13 respectively, split by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. The Briton’s final run was investigated by the stewards, Force India’s Adrian Sutil suspected of blocking the Briton. Sutil was duly penalized, given a three-place grid drop for tomorrow’s race, though Hamilton later stated he was off the pace regardless.
“I just didn't get a lap together in Q2 today and it's hugely disappointing, not just for me, but also for the team and I can only apologise to them as we had a quick car today,” he said. “I came off at Parabolica on my first run which damaged the car and it was a downward spiral from there really.”
The final segment then seemed to be all about the margin by which Vettel would claim pole. In the end, untroubled as he was in his march to the front of the grid, the gap wasn’t as great as expected as Webber put up a solid challenge to finish just two tenths adrift of the champion.
“I’m pretty happy with my laps,” said Webber of sealing Red Bull Racing’s first front-row lockout since the opening race of the season. “Jean-Eric [Vergne] went off in the Parabolica, in the last corner, so I didn’t know if he’d dropped a wheel or if he was continuing on the circuit, so I couldn’t really see with the dust. Then when I got further round I could see he was in the gravel. So a little bit of a tricky finish to the lap but overall it wouldn’t have been enough to get Seb, he did a very good lap.”
Hülkenberg, meanwhile, took his best grid position since he claimed pole position for Williams in a rain-hit 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying.
“I didn’t expect it, especially after a very difficult Friday,” he said, referring to gearbox issues that ended his FP1 session early. “The guys have done a fantastic job to turn the car around and give me such a competitive car today. The car just got better and better, I think with the track improvement and with the right decision to fuel for one timed lap. A burning lap which made this nice surprise happen.”
Behind the Sauber driver, Felipe Massa will line up fourth for Ferrari, ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso. Nico Rosberg will line up behind Alonso at the back of row three, while row four will see Daniel Ricciardo start from seventh position, ahead of McLaren’s Sergio Pérez. Jenson Button will line up in ninth place in the second McLaren, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Vergne, whose Parabolica error on his final lap cost him valuable time.