Trading on his scorching FP3 pace, Mark Webber was the only man in the1:30 minute bracket to take pole for the first time in Suzuka, on a circuit he called the “Links golf course of the F1 world.”
The winds had picked up around Suzuka, but the seemingly insignificant 7km p/h cross-breeze would be of greater consequence for those teetering on the edge of grip around Spoon Curve and Degner. In fact the wind had changed 180 degrees and called for a re-think on aero-settings.
Gutierrez was the first man into the 1:33′s, but Raikkonen was already a tenth up in the first sector alone. It was Button however that jumped to the provisional top of Q1 with a 1:32.6 with a beautiful rotation through the chicane.
Gutierrez (now in his pits) made a hasty exit from his Sauber when a fire ignited from the engine bay. The fire was extinguished as quickly as it started but it was unknown st this stage whether the imultion would halt Esteban’s qualifying proceedings. Alonso now shot to the top with a time just three tenths off Webber’s best in Free Practice Three. Hamilton followed just two tenths behind Fernando.
Having another crack, Hamilton finally bettered the Ferrari talisman’s time by just three-hundredths of a second. Vettel was two-hundredths behind Alonso, semming happy to wait before shoing his hand, but Webber was in no mood to wait, slotting in a 1:32.27.
Toro Rosso’s reliabilties continued to progress on a downward curve with Jean-Eric Vergne’s engine detonating, or as it would seem from the amount of flames emitting from the STR8′s exhausts. Vergne pulled off at the exit of turn eleven before marshalls turned his Toro Rosso into a marshmallow.
With two and a half minutes left in Q1 there was most likely only enough time for one run at the clock. Rosberg led the way followed by Hulkenberg and Raikkonen – who muscled past the Sauber to hit the start/finish point with some clear air in front of him. Gutierrez was now a tenth up on Webber’s best in the first sector and then seven tenths by the second, but then lost it all on the run through 130R and the chicane.
Grosjean’s 1:31+ lap was enough to go into Q2 as favourite, but those eliminated from the session were Sutil, Vergne, Chilton, Pic, van der Garde and Bianchi. A great effort from Chilton outqualifying his team-mate by six-tenths and both Caterham’s in the process.
At the start of Q2, di Resta shot out of the blocks early to set a banker time while a relatively free track was still there to be exploited. He might’ve been a little too keen as he was well ahead of the car heading through the chicane and in turn lost considerable time on the run to the timing box. Raikkonen was now at the top having equalled Webber’s best time of the weekend with Grosjean half a second away. The Frenchman lost all of his time to the Finn through the chicane (as seems to be the way of things this weekend) after only being seven-thousandths away through 130R.
Three hundredths now seperated the top two men in Alonso and Hamilton, each now into the high thirty-one second bracket.
As Webber emerged from the pits, he was caught by the McLaren of Perez, however Sergio’s approach speed hardly indcated a serious timed lap was on the table. Vettel however now dealt a hammer blow in the form of a 1:31.29 and three tenths up on Webber. The RB9 definitely had left something up it’s Newey-tailored sleeve.
Those elimiated heading into Q3 were Perez (displaced by a late run from Massa), di Resta, Bottas, Gutierrez, Maldonado and Ricciardo.
A ragged exit from Spoon at the beginning of Q3 from Vettel cost him four tenths from team-mate Webber. Grosjean too endured a wild ride out of Degner while everyone attempted to settle their nerves, or eagerness given so much was up for grabs for the first time since Hungary.
As everyone pitted before a final run the provisional order was Webber, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and Button.
A first run from Vettel failed to top Webber’s best, but Mark would go faster again with a 1:30.9 to take pole for the first time in Suzuka.
Hamilton rounded out the top three with Grosjean fourth and Felipe Massa a superb fifth – three spots ahead of team-mate Alonso.
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