All the news in the last week may have surrounded the newly crowned four-times champion Sebastian Vettel, but it was his Red Bull team-mate who stole the show at Abu Dhabi on Saturday, as Mark Webber seized his second pole position of the season, with a mighty lap around the Yas Marina to equal Jack Brabham’s record of 13 pole positions for an Australian driver in Formula One.
The Yas Marina circuit was bathed in glorious sunlight as qualifying for the 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix got under way. It was Force India’s Paul di Resta, who was the first man to open the 20 minute session with a scruffy lap of 1:52.651, which was instantly improved upon by first Max Chilton and then the two Toro Rosso’s.
Nico Rosberg’s lap time of 1:42.279 on the medium Pirelli’s stood as a solid benchmark for a large part of the session, before the teams made the switch to the soft tyres later in the session.
The Red Bull’s left it typically late to go out, heading out for a single run on their unfancied race tyre, the soft, with just 5 minutes of the session remaining. Newly crowned quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel going fastest of all with a 1:41.683, before his team-mate Mark Webber improved on the German’s time with a 1:41.568.
Lotus had seemingly learnt their lesson from India, where Romain Grosjean was knocked out in Q1, opting for an early switch to the soft tyres. Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean both topped the session momentarily, noticeably quicker than the Red Bull’s on the same tyre at this early stage of qualifying.
In the closing minutes of the session a swathe of drivers flooded the circuit on the soft tyres, sending the timing sheets crazy, as the soft tyres, coupled with the track rubbering in, delivered more and more laptime. Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado noticeably shot up the timesheets to progress into Q2, but it was ultimately Lewis Hamilton who topped the session for Mercedes with a lap of 1:40.693.
Esteban Guttierez and Adrian Sutil joined the usual suspects in the Q1 knockout zone, as Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi, Charles Pic and Max Chilton all fell by the wayside.
As the green light came on to signal the start of Q2, the sun began to descend behind the grandstands, with track temperatures starting to slowly fall, which was expected to grant even more laptime.
Paul di Resta was once again the first man out, followed out by Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button, who all followed the trend from the end of Q1 by heading out on track on the soft Pirelli tyres. Di Resta’s opening laptime of 1:41.477 stood for only a moment before Nico Hulkenberg improved by three tenths of a second for Sauber.
Lotus once again showed strong pace in Q2 on the soft tyre, as Kimi Raikkonen produced a 1:40.971 to top the early part of the session, while Romain Grosjean slotted into third.
However, it was Mercedes who were looking to be Red Bull’s biggest rivals for pole around Yas Marina, as their two men topped the session, with only four thousandths of a second separating Nico Rosberg, who was fastest with a 1:40.473, from Lewis Hamilton with a 1:40.477. The Red Bull’s could only look on in Q2, as they slotted into third and fourth, Mark Webber interestingly once again ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
After a dreadful Friday for Ferrari, their weekend proceeded to get even worst, as Fernando Alonso missed out on a place in Q3 for the first time in 2013, the Spaniards worst qualifying performance since the 2012 European GP. As a small consolation for the Scuderia, Felipe Massa just crept into the finals session, but at the expense of his team-mate in tenth, the Brazilian’s lap of 1:40.989 just edging out his team-mate, who could do no better than a 1:41.093.
Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg both impressed once again, finishing Q2 in sixth and seventh respectively.
Jenson Button was the other high profile dropout from Q2, the McLaren man ending up only 13th. A severely bitter disappointment for the 2009 champion, as his team-mate Sergio Perez progressed easily into the final session of qualifying.
Ultimately it would be Fernando Alonso, Paul di Resta, Jenson Button, Jean-Eric Vergne, and the two Williams’ of Pastor Maldonado and Valteri Bottas who failed to proceed to the third and final session of qualifying.
The darkness had well and truly descended on Yas Marina as the final 10 minute session of qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix began. With Paul di Resta eliminated in Q2, it fell to Nico Hulkenberg to set the opening gambit of the session, with a lap of 1:41.379.
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton continued to look like Red Bull’s biggest challengers for pole as they blitzed the Sauber man’s time just moments later, but Sebastian Vettel put pay to their early challenge with the quickest lap of the weekend thus far with a 1:40.091.
Romain Grosjean struggled on his initial run, restricted to just sixth fastest, with the 27-year-old complaining of tyre vibrations, which his Lotus team explained were a result of his exuberant exit from the garage. It appeared that the Frenchman had torn up the paint from the garage floor as he lit-up up his tyres on his way out to the circuit.
Nico Hulkenberg led the remainder of the field out for the final run of qualifying, followed in quick succession by Mark Webber in the Red Bull, who having led Vettel in both Q1 and Q2 had only managed fifth fastest in the initial run of Q3.
Webber went on to deliver a stunning performance on his final run, producing a 1:39.957, the first sub- 1 minute 40 time of the weekend.
Nico Rosberg popped in a good lap, enough for third fastest, but almost half a second down on the Australian’s time. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton failed to improve on fourth after a spin at turn 14 on his final run, which brought out the yellow flags.
Sebastian Vettel proceeded past the yellows unheeded, but try as he might the German could not better his team-mates earlier session topping time, a lap of 1:40.075 not enough to deny Mark Webber pole position at Yas Marina.
Kimi Raikkonen ended the session fifth fastest, ahead of his possible replacement at Lotus for 2014 Nico Hulkenberg in sixth. Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus could only manage seventh, while both Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez will be pleased to out qualify their team-mates in eight and ninth. Daniel Ricciardo will join Perez on the fifth row of the grid in tenth.
Position Driver Team/Car Time Gap
1. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m39.957s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m40.075s +0.118s
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m40.419s +0.462s
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m40.501s +0.544s
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m40.542s +0.585s
6. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m40.576s +0.619s
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m40.997s +1.040s
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m41.015s +1.058s
9. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m41.068s +1.111s
10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.111s +1.154s
11. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m41.093s +0.620s
12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m41.133s +0.660s
13. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m41.200s +0.727s
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.279s +0.806s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m41.395s +0.922s
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m41.447s +0.974s
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.999s +1.306s
18. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m42.051s +1.358s
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m43.252s +2.559s
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m43.398s +2.705s
21. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m43.528s +2.835s
22. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m44.198s +3.505s
Image courtesy of Pirelli Media