Mark Webber claimed a surprising pole position at the Korean Grand Prix, edging out his team-mate Sebastian Vettel to take Red Bull Racing’s 44th in the sport.
The Australian upstaged pace-setter Vettel with a brilliant Q3 lap. It seemed the reigning world champion was heading for his 35th career of poles after setting the fastest time in Q1 and Q2.
In fact, the 25-year-old German’s first Q3 lap was three tenths of a second clear of the opposition.
But then Webber, who had been third in the provisional order, found a half-second improvement on his last pole attempt to set a time of one minute, 37.242 seconds.
The result was also the 200th Formula One pole for Red Bull’s engine supplier Renault.
Vettel’s response was simply not fast enough, with a poor first sector preventing the German from improving on his earlier mark. That ensured pole for Webber by 0.074 seconds, despite his software glitch.
Fernando Alonso was initially in second position following his first Q1 run, but Webber’s pole lap and an improvement from Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren pushed the championship leader back down to fourth.
Lotus showed better form with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean taking fifth and seventh in their upgraded cars, featuring the Coanda exhaust. The black and gold cars will sandwich in between the Ferrari of Felipe Massa.
Nico Hulkenberg took his Force India to eighth, beating the Silver Arrows of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.
There could have been several surprises in the early part of qualifying, but in the end the only major upset was that Jenson Button did not make Q3.
The McLaren driver’s first Q2 lap was compromised by an error, and then he missed the cut by 0.013 seconds when Jenson had to back off on his second run as yellows flew for Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso parking with a gearbox issue.
Had the end of Q1 worked out differently, neither McLaren would have reached the top ten shootout. As Hamilton was one of few drivers not to use the super softs in Q1, and as others found big gains on the quicker Pirelli, his early time meant he was only 17th fastest.
The McLaren was sat in the pits and was unable to respond due to the time limit, but Hamilton escaped a shock elimination as Bruno Senna’s final lap was not good enough, leaving the Williams down with the Caterhams, Marussias and HRTs. Senna’s team-mate Pastor Maldonado fared only marginally better, qualifying in P15.
Alonso did use super softs and had to do two runs in Q1, yet that was only 16th quickest… There were no such problems for either Hamilton or Alonso in Q2, though.
Sauber had to settle for P12 and P13, while Paul di Resta blamed traffic as his Force India ended up only P14.
While at the back, Narain Karthikeyan did not set a time due to brake problems with his HRT. As for Charles Pic, the Marussia driver qualified in P21 but will take engine penalty meaning he will start last on the grid.
Qualifying positions for the Korean Grand Prix:
1. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m37.242s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m37.316s
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m37.469s
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.534s
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m37.625s
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m37.884s
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m37.934s
8. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m38.266s
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.361s
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.513s
11. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.441s
12. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.460s
13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.594s
14. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m38.643s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m38.725s
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m39.084s
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m39.340s
18. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m39.443s
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m40.207s
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m40.333s
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m41.371s
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m42.881s
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth no time*
24. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m41.317s**
107 per cent time: 1m45.082s
*Did not set a time, requires dispensation from stewards to start
**Ten-place penalty due to engine change