Vettel leads Red Bull superiority in qualifying

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

7 thoughts to “Vettel leads Red Bull superiority in qualifying”

  1. Sebastian Vettel says Red Bull’s confidence ahead of the race for the Japanese Grand Prix is justified following a dominant performance for the team in the delayed qualifying session at Suzuka.

    The German out-qualified his team-mate Mark Webber by less than a tenth, as the pair lapped more than 0.3s faster than Lewis Hamilton, to secure the first all Red Bull front row since Hungary.

    “It is good to change the colours again on the pole (after Ferrari],” he said. “The last two races were not so good for us but we could improve the performance of the car.

    “We came here with quite some confidence. This track is quite made for us – especially the first sector and not too many straights, so after all the conditions yesterday good that the sun came out.”

    Vettel added that the strong form Red Bull showed during practice on Friday only added to his confidence ahead of the race later today.

    “It is a new situation for us, both qualifying and the race today, tough day – had a good sleep today and hoping for the best result like last year, the car is fantastic around here,” he said. “Running on Friday was useful, quite a good long run so confident of good race, start should be good.”


  2. Despite missing out on crucial laps around the Suzuka circuit following a practice crash Lewis Hamilton was able to manage third fastest, but will start the Japanese Grand Prix down in eighth following a gearbox change. has the details.

    Lewis Hamilton believes third in Suzuka qualifying was the best result he could have hoped for given Red Bull’s pace and his dramas this weekend.

    The McLaren driver crashed early in Friday practice, missed most of the second session while his heavily damaged car was repaired, and then lost out on any more dry running due to yesterday’s downpour.

    Hamilton then received the further blow of a gearbox change penalty, meaning his third place in qualifying will become eighth on the grid, but despite these problems, he was still the fastest driver outside the dominant Red Bulls this morning.

    Asked if his third was the best possible result, Hamilton replied: “I think so considering the speed of the Red Bulls. We knew this weekend they would be competitive and it’s not been the best of weekends for us.

    “The guys back at the factory are working so hard to bring updates and unfortunately one of them we were not able to work with today, it needs a bit more time, but the guys did a fantastic job to get updates here.”

    Given the issues so far this weekend, Hamilton said he was relieved to at least be starting no further back than eighth.

    “It was difficult for me to come here today, I only had five or six laps on track,” he said. “I am happy to come this far at least, I’m starting eighth but hopefully we can have a good race.”

    Hamilton also told the BBC that he considered Suzuka to have been one of the toughest of his 2010 campaign in terms of problems: “It’s been one of the worst weekends we’ve had so far. It feels like it’s all come over one weekend as well.

    “The mistake on Friday didn’t help and then of course the gearbox change was a bit frustrating for us all. The guys did a great job to put the car back together and I am just happy I got out and did a good job in qualifying. I have been fighting this ear infection all weekend and so it has not been the best of times.”

    UPDATE: Lewis Hamilton will not receive any further grid penalty for the Japanese Grand Prix after the stewards rejected a protest from the Williams team over the Briton’s driving in qualifying.

    Williams’ Nico Hulkenberg had accused Hamilton of blocking him in Q3, saying that his final lap was ruined when he encountered the McLaren in the chicane as it hung back to try and get space for its own flying lap.

    However the stewards found no evidence of any rules breach by Hamilton so let him keep his eighth place on the Suzuka grid.

    He had qualified third fastest, but was already being demoted five places as he had required a gearbox change prior to qualifying.

  3. McLaren opted not to make a precautionary change of Lewis Hamilton’s faulty gearbox before the Japanese Grand Prix because the outfit wanted to give him a fresh unit for the final three races.

    Hamilton’s chances of fighting for victory at Suzuka have been compromised by the five-place penalty he was given for needing a new gearbox prior to qualifying.

    And although the issue could have been avoided had McLaren opted for a free change of Hamilton’s gearbox prior to the weekend, the team said it did not want to do that because that would have meant stretching the unit until the final race of the campaign.

    Gearbox reliability will be especially tested at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, with the characteristics of the Yas Marina circuit especially tough on the units.

    “We could have changed it but we wanted a fresh gearbox for the last three races,” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh told AUTOSPORT.

    “Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If you know you’re going to fall off, you don’t leave the garage, but you don’t know those things until you have got the data.

    “The gearbox, it went through the tests, it looked fine, but these things, like all parts of the power train of an F1 car, are very delicate indeed. And if they go outside their normal operation it is easy to damage them. The shame is we didn’t pick it up until we had fitted it and run it in P3.”

    Whitmarsh said that the gearbox problem was a legacy of the collision Hamilton suffered with Mark Webber at the Singapore Grand Prix.

    “There was an over-rotation of the differential and no outward signs of it,” he said. “Clearly it damaged the diff which is in a sealed box, but yesterday after the end of P3 we could see that there was a big pressure rise which was probably a blocked filter, and indeed it turned out to be.

    “Once you have a blocked filter you have to go in hunt of the source of that, which turned out to be a differential.”


  4. After winning the Italian and Singapore Grands Prix, Fernando Alonso believes he can finish on the podium following his fourth fastest time in a postponed qualifying session. has the story:

    Fernando Alonso believes a podium finish is possible after qualifying fourth on the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix following Lewis Hamilton’s five-place grid drop.

    The Ferrari driver, who won the last two races to move to second in the world championship behind Mark Webber, is seeking to limit the damage a dominant weekend from Red Bull would have on his title aspirarions.

    “I think it is always difficult to predict what will happen on a different circuit – coming from Singapore,” he told the BBC. “We knew McLaren brought some improvements to the car, we knew Red Bull finished on the podium at Spa, so on this type of track they are quite competitive. So we expected some difficulties.

    “Starting fourth on the grid we limited the damage of qualifying and in the race I’m sure that a podium is possible.”

    Alonso added that his first task would be to get past Robert Kubica’s Renault, after the Pole cemented his strong practice form with third on the grid.

    “The first priority is to take Robert as soon as possible, if we can do it at the start that is better, but we will see,” said Alonso. “Then around the pitstops, if not at the start.

    “We need to pressure Red Bull, we know they are very quick, but if we put some pressure then maybe it will cause a mistake. We will see, at the moment they are very dominant this weekend.”

    Alonso’s team-mate Felipe Massa will start 11th after failing to make Q3, and afterwards the Brazilian blamed slower cars for his poor grid slot: “I had quite a bit of traffic on my most important lap and this took me out of Q3.

    “It was a shame because for sure we would have been fighting up there.”

  5. As the only driver in the top ten to take the hard tyres route, Jenson Button is feeling optimistic in scoring a good result at Suzuka. Read on for Button’s view as taken from

    Jenson Button believes his tyre strategy for the Japanese Grand Prix is a sensible gamble, with the world champion the only man in the top 10 choosing to start on the harder Bridgestone today.

    McLaren driver Button was sixth fastest and said that the tyre choice made sense to him as he had felt less comfortable on the soft rubber in practice.

    “I felt better on the prime,” he told television reporters. “Obviously when you get more and more soft tyre rubber down, maybe it doesn’t work as well, but I was pretty happy.

    “It’s possibly a gamble. I don’t think it’s a big one. The soft tyre for us on Friday was a bit difficult to handle, so we’ll see what it’s like on the prime.

    “Everyone else is on the soft tyre and overtaking is always difficult around here, but we’ll give it a shot.”

    However he was slightly frustrated with how qualifying had worked out, as his tactic of trying three flying laps in a single run had not paid off.

    “I couldn’t find any more with the tyre and I tried to do a third lap, which didn’t work,” said Button, who moves up to fifth on the grid thanks to his team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s penalty.

    “Looking at it, we should’ve just done one lap with the tyre, and then you save six kilos of fuel, which is about 0.2s, so that’s a little bit frustrating really.

    “But it’s not too bad, I’ll be starting the race from fifth and on a different strategy to everyone else, so we’ll see how it works.”

  6. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh believes Jenson Button is in good shape for the Japanese Grand Prix after opting for prime tyres in qualifying, even though he is only starting in fifth place.

    The reigning world champion decided to play the long game by not using the option tyres for Sunday morning’s qualifying session, and it is a strategy that Whitmarsh thinks can lift Button up the field in the race.

    “He is in a very strong position and he did a fantastic job,” Whitmarsh told AUTOSPORT. “He was involved in making that call and I think the option tyre is going to struggle a little bit this afternoon, so to be up there near the front with the prime tyre I think you are in a good shape. It was the right thing for him to do.

    “We have got the second quickest car, and without that pace we could not have contemplated being on the prime tyre. The prime tyre is clearly the slower tyre over one lap but it will be the strongest race tyre.

    “We know how good Jenson is at looking after his tyres and running smoothly, and he will be setting out to really run long into this race, that is not a secret, and hopefully if we get a little bit of luck go our way this weekend, we will be able to exploit that and it will be a good strategy.”

    Although Button ultimately sacrificed around two tenths of a second of qualifying pace by being fuelled for a multi-lap run in Q3, which was the difference between his final time and that of the cars immediately ahead of him, Whitmarsh reckons it would have been too much of a gamble to expect him to deliver his best on a single-lap run.

    “The first thing we all said was if we had gone for one lap on the prime with Jenson we could have been up closer to the front,” explained Whitmarsh. “It would have been a very brave thing to do to do one lap on the prime, but that is the normal racing mentality.

    “Jenson did his best time on his first lap and still had two laps of fuel, so could have been up there in front of Alonso… so that is a shame.”


  7. In only his second Grand Prix appearance Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld has admitted he is still learning since making his Formula One comeback. has the story.

    Nick Heidfeld felt he still had some way to go to fully reacclimatise to Formula 1 after narrowly missing out on a top 10 start in the Japanese Grand Prix.

    In his second event back with Sauber after a year on the sidelines, Heidfeld looked set to reach Q3 until Michael Schumacher’s late improvement in Q2 edged him back to 11th.

    “I was obviously very close to making it into the top 10 – literally in the last second Michael went faster and kicked me out of Q3,” said Heidfeld.

    “I am still busy learning how to drive with these tyres, and especially finding out how to get the most out of the softer compound which we used in Q2 but not a lot before here in Suzuka.

    “I really have to concentrate on this when I leave the garage on option tyres, as it is not automatic yet. However, I keep learning and I changed my driving style after the Singapore weekend.

    “The fact that on my car we are tight on engines and they have significant mileage doesn’t really help either.”

    The German still outqualified his team-mate Kamui Kobayashi, who was frustrated to have blown a lap that could have got him into the top 10 on home ground.

    “Until the very last corner I was good enough for Q3, but then I made a mistake and I feel sorry about that,” said the top Japanese driver.

    “My car was good, and the balance and set-up seemed alright to me, although I didn’t have much running on the circuit.

    “Let’s see what we can do, of course it would be great for me and the team to score points today.”

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