Following a promising Friday, the paddock anticipated an interesting qualifying session, with both Red Bull’s facing close competition from the Mercedes duo for Pole Position. However, it was a familiar figure in P1, as Sebastian Vettel claimed his third Pole Position in a row, edging out Lewis Hamilton, as the pair lock-out the front row once again. Mark Webber posted an impressive time good enough for P3, yet will only start P13, after his “taxi” incident in Singapore. Romain Grosjean will consequently start in P3 instead.
Vettel claiming yet another Pole Position will have critics of the Vettel-era screaming predictability, however, his critical lap in a tight Q3 proved his credentials. Despite Mercedes’ fantastic baseline performance displayed on Friday, they were still unable to overhaul Sebastian – even last year’s pole sitter, Mark Webber, could only come within 0.3 seconds of the reigning champion.
“It was close today,” Sebastian explained, “I had a very good lap in Q3 on my first attempt and thought I would find it hard to do better. On my second attempt I caught Kimi on the warm up lap and didn’t have time to drop back, but fortunately the first lap was good enough. Mercedes were strong and seem to be comfortable in the middle sector.” He continued; “We’re good in Sector one this year which a surprise as that’s mostly straights. We improved the car from yesterday as I wasn’t entirely happy with it after the second practice. In terms of conditions, we should be okay if it’s dry or wet tomorrow; it’s not clear if we get some rain from the typhoon, but let’s see what happens.”
While a driver is yet to convert Pole into victory in Korea, Vettel will be confident heading into tomorrow’s race, as the Red Bull has displayed excellent long run performance throughout the weekend. Lewis Hamilton will acknowledge that the start will be critical – Mercedes will need to disrupt Vettel’s opening stint if they are to mount a serious challenge.
Hamilton’s P2 was impressive. The Brit managed to convert his FP2 table topping attempt into a promising position. “I’m really happy with second position today as it felt like I got everything out of the car today. The guys have done a great job to get the package as it is here: we came into the weekend knowing that Red Bull had an advantage, so to be as close as I am in terms of performance is a real positive. Hopefully we have closed the gap a little bit. Our long-run pace yesterday looked good and pretty close to theirs but there will be threats all around us in tomorrow’s race.” An optimistic response from Lewis – a change to his usual pessimistic approach. A different winner will be a relished result tomorrow and Lewis Hamilton is probably Sebastian’s closest challenger.
Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean produced yet another impressive performance, as he looks to prove to Lotus that he is a viable option for them in 2014. He inherits P3 after Mark Webber’s demotion, yet may struggle to maintain the position tomorrow, judging by Lotus’ mediocre performance through the prior sessions. With Raikkonen down in P10, Romain has now affirmed his position as team leader.
Another happy camp following qualifying were Sauber after their best Saturday performance of the year. Gutierrez and Hulkenberg both progressed into the final part of Qualifying, in which they out-qualified an uncharacteristically sloppy Raikkonen. An exuberant Gutierrez stated; “The communication was very good today, a big thank you to the entire team. I’ve improved my qualifying and once you have both cars working on a similar level you can push yourself a lot more. This is the first time I have driven here, so it is great to achieve a result like that. It is now the second time in a row I have been able to put in a good qualifying performance and that is a good feeling, because I have worked a lot to improve.”
Sauber’s progression into Q3 was at the expense of McLaren, who dropped out in Q2, with Sergio Perez beating Jenson Button to P11. They will undoubtedly have work to do tomorrow, as the medium compound tyre may not have such a longevity advantage over the super-soft compound.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:37.202
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.420
3 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:37.464
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:37.531
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.679
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.038
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:38.223
8 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:38.237
9 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:38.405
10 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:38.822
11 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:38.362
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.365
13 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:38.417
14 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:38.431
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:38.718
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:38.781
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:39.470
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:39.987
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:40.864
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:40.871
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:41.169
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:41.322