Can Mark Webber, with just five F1 starts left in his career, finally get it off the line cleanly tomorrow? Or will whatever that system might/might not be on Vettel’s car prevail? The pair start from the front row in Japan tomorrow, Webber on pole for the first time in 2013, promising some potential team shenanigans tomorrow. That and some proper ‘Strine bloody-mindedness. Vettel has made it clear he wants to win the title in Japan. I can’t imagine Webber heard that particular request. You can imagine the look on Webber’s face the driver’s den after this one… “That is what I think of Multi 21, mate.”
Fernando Alonso didn’t make his job as ‘throne-blocker-in-chief’ any easier by qualifying seventh, once again behind team mate Felipe Massa. He needs to finish there — just to be safe — if he is to continue to stall Vettel’s coronation. And that won’t be easy, behind Webber and Vettel (and in this order) are Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean, Massa, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg. Only Kimi Räikkonen and Jenson Button start behind Alonso in the Q3 group. None of those guys are going to be easy to pass unless Fernando manages another of those mega-starts, though he does have quite a bit of space to do so at Suzuka.
Hamilton seemed happy with third and Ferrari happy with both their drivers. All three have been solid on long runs this weekend as has Romain Grosjean, faster once again that Kimi. The fuss around Kimi this summer is starting to look a little daft what with RoGros and the Hulk (seventh today) making the news again.
Qualifying had an edgy, nothing-is-certain-surprises-are-possible-feel from the start. Friday’s practice saw what seemed like just about everybody going off except maybe Adrian Sutil, and he went off this morning. Have some sympathy for the teams, folks. The south of South Korea is a long haul from home, but is nonetheless the kind of place you still just can’t wait to get started on the long haul home. And these guys have had instead to fly on to Japan immediately and have had their work cut out this weekend since arriving. Is it any wonder mistakes are being made, like Maldonado’s loose wheel on Friday that cost Williams so dearly?
Today dawned windy, really windy at Suzuka (a bit like it was here in the UK last night, only without the rain) with 50kph gusts blowing one way and then the other. And then, as if it couldn’t get any more elemental, it all started catching fire; Esteban Gutierrez in the Sauber in the garage (scary) and then Jean Eric Vergne’s brakes out on the track. We haven’t seen fires in F1 for a little while and now four in three races.
Remarkably Gutierrez made it back out and in to Q2, but there was no such luck for Vergne, who was joined in the Q3 drop by Sutil in the repaired Force India. His team didn’t seem very happy about that. In fact there doesn’t seem to be much love from the team for either driver or vice versa.
Paul di Resta once again didn’t make it to Q3 and it’s hard not to see the sun setting on what’s been an odd career in F1. He was joined in the Q2 drop by some of the usual suspects, Perez, Gutierrez and Ricciardo (seriously can someone tells us why this boy is special enough for an RB10 next year?) as well as both Williams who, frankly, were only in Q2 because of Vergne and Sutil’s problems.
There was a happy surprise right at the very back where a Marussia led the Division Three gang for the first time since Bianchi’s superstar performances at the start of the season, only it wasn’t Bianchi in 19th. We’ve very much approved of the low profile Max Chilton has taken this year. He’s clearly been getting his head down and it’s starting to pay off. Good on him.
Max at the back, Mark at the front. For those among you who bothered to get up to watch quali’, live enjoy the tremendous sense of well-being that news brings today.