Vettel takes Sunday-morning pole at Suzuka


In the rescheduled qualifying session, Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in beautiful sunny conditions – a stark contrast to the monsoon-like weather which caused yesterday's session to be cancelled.

Mark Webber will start alongside his teammate on the front row of the grid but Lewis Hamilton, who qualified third, will be penalised five grid places after McLaren were forced to change his gearbox.

Robert Kubica qualified in an excellent fourth place, while Fernando Alonso had to settle for fifth, just ahead of Jenson Button.

The two Mercedes and two Williams drivers make up the remainder of the top ten. Nico Rosberg starts seventh ahead of Rubens Barrichello, whilst Nico Hulkenberg and Michael Schumacher make up the fifth row of the grid.

The track was still damp as Vitaly Petrov led the first of the drivers out the moment the light at the end of the pitlane finally turned green to signify the beginning of qualifying. Dry tyres were on the Renault as the Russian completed the first competitive flying lap of the weekend. Both McLaren drivers did an installation lap on intermediates, but they were only used as an early precautionary measure.

Nico Hulkenberg sat top of the timesheets for much of Q1, with teammate Rubens Barrichello second. This is largely because the five championship contenders stayed in the pits early on, but also because they failed to make much of an impact on the running order with their initial flying laps.

However, with just over six minutes of the first knockout session to go, Sebastian Vettel set the fastest lap, and remained in the top spot. The rest of the championship contenders made it through to Q2 without any drama: Mark Webber fifth fastest, Fernando Alonso seventh, Jenson Button eighth and Lewis Hamilton twelfth.

Sebastien Buemi was the unlucky driver finishing Q1 in eighteenth position, going out of qualifying at this early stage. The Swiss driver will line up tomorrow on the grid ahead only of the drivers for the new teams. Jarno Trulli, will start nineteenth, then Lotus teammate Heikki Kovalainen. The two Virgin drivers, Lucas di Grassi and Timo Glock, will occupy the eleventh row. Bruno Senna, and Sakon Yamamoto sit on an all-Hispania back row.

Alonso sat waiting at the end of the pitlane at the beginning of Q2, eager to claim his place in the top-ten shoot-out. He did this by finishing this part of qualifying fifth fastest, behind his four title rivals, who were led by Vettel and then Webber.

It was Alonso's Ferrari teammate who made the Q2 headlines though, finishing the session twelfth, and failing to make it through to Q3. Michael Schumacher put in a good flying lap to make to secure his place in the final part of qualifying; crossing the line after the checkered flag had fallen.

As it stands, eleventh to seventeenth on the grid for the race later today will be Nick Heidfeld, Massa, Petrov, home favourite Kamui Kobayashi, Adrian Sutil, Jaime Alguersuari and Tonio Liuzzi.

Although the prime Bridgestone tyre had seemed faster on the well-washed Suzuka track during Q1 and Q2, all the championship contenders did their initial laps in the final section of qualifying on the softer option tyre. Button chose to remain in the pits for the first half of Q3, and then went out on prime rubber for a run of three flying laps.

At the midway point the order among the main protagonists was Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Alonso. Vettel was nearly four tenths faster than his Red Bull teammate at this early stage. Button on his first flying lap slotted into the order behind his teammate. With just two minutes of the session remaining, the others came out of the pits to join Button on track.

Hamilton was first to cross the line, jumping up to second, but Webber re-took the front row slot. Vettel improved on his time by seven-thousandths of a second, giving him a pole position with a time of 1:30.785. Robert Kubica put in a stunning lap to claim fourth from Alonso, while Button was sixth fastest.

Kubica, Alonso and Button will all move up a position when Hamilton's penalty is applied, but eighth place was perhaps the best grid position that the 2008 world champion could hope for given, the dominant Red Bull pace.

The drivers now have less than four hours before they line-up on the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix.