Championship contender Sebastian Vettel continued his impressive performance at the Japanese Grand Prix with pole position at the Suzuka International Circuit. After setting the fastest time in both Friday’s practice sessions, the German extended his advantage with his eighth pole this season, his first since Hungary.
In fact, the speed of the Renault-powered RB6 around this figure of eight circuit led to a commanding performance from the Milton Keynes-based outfit with team-mate Mark Webber taking second on the grid. The Australian was within a few hundredths of the flying Vettel to form an all-Red Bull Racing front row.
As for Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren driver claimed the ‘best of the rest’ honours with the third quickest time but due to a gearbox change, he will start the Japanese Grand Prix in eighth position.
This five-place grid penalty means that Renault’s Robert Kubica moves up to third. As for Fernando Alonso, the winner at Monza and Singapore, the double world champion lines up in fourth for Ferrari.
The postponed qualifying session made it a challenge for Felipe Massa, as the Brazilian was unable to find speed in Q2 and the best he could manage with only P12.
For Jenson Button, the reigning world champion made a unique choice on the hard compound tyres for Q3 and recorded the fifth fastest time for McLaren.
The Silver Arrows took sixth and tenth with Nico Rosberg four tenths of a second faster than team-mate Michael Schumacher, with a pair of Williams in between – having been second and fourth in Q1. Rubens Barrichello narrowly beat Nico Hulkenberg in the session that matter.
Nick Heidfeld was within touch distance in making it through to Q3 in only his second race appearance with Sauber. His final lap of Q2 was even faster than Schumacher and Massa, although a late improvement by his fellow countryman pushed Heidfeld back down to P11.
Despite that, he still outqualified his team-mate and home favourite Kamui Kobayashi, who looked set to reach the top ten until a slight error at the chicane left the Japanese in P14, alongside Renault’s Vitaly Petrov.
There was no repeat of Toro Rosso’s strong 2009 Suzuka pace. Jaime Alguersuari back in P16 between the Force Indias and his team-mate Sebastien Buemi did not get beyond Q1.
Lotus F1 Racing dominated proceedings in the new teams’ battle, with Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen nearly a second clear of Virgin Racing, which saw an upset as Lucas di Grassi outqualified team-mate Timo Glock for only the second time all year.
Qualifying times from Suzuka:
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m30.785s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m30.853s
3. Robert Kubica Renault 1m31.231s
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m31.352s
5. Jenson Button McLaren 1m31.378s
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m31.494s
7. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m31.535s
8. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m31.169s*
9. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 1m31.559s
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m31.846s
11. Nick Heidfeld Sauber 1m32.187s
12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m32.321s
13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m32.422s
14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m32.427s
15. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m32.659s
16. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m33.071s
17. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India 1m33.154s
18. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m33.568s
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m35.346s
20. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m35.464s
21. Lucas di Grassi Virgin 1m36.265s
22. Timo Glock Virgin 1m36.332s
23. Bruno Senna Hispania 1m37.270s
24. Sakon Yamamoto Hispania 1m37.365s
*Five-place grid penalty for gearbox change