Everybody expected to see a Red Bull take pole position today in Korea, but few thought it would be Mark Webber celebrating whilst team-mate Sebastian Vettel was forced to settle for second.
Lewis Hamilton could do nothing to prevent a second-consecutive front-row lock-out for Red Bull today but, despite finishing Q1 in a nervy 17th place – and hence on the cusp of going out early – qualified in third.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso, who was also living dangerously in the early stages of qualifying, will start alongside Hamilton on Row 2, whilst Kimi Räikkönen, a fellow title contender, starts from fifth.
Jenson Button failed to get out of Q2 after yellow flags, waving to warn of a stricken Daniel Ricciardo, forced him to slow during his final qualifying lap. As a result, the McLaren driver will start down in eleventh.
For Mark Webber, who still has an outside shot at this year’s title with a 60 point deficit to Alonso, it was an inspired final flying lap – a 1:37.242 – which gave him pole position. It beat Vettel’s first attempt at a Q3 lap by less than one tenth of a second.
However, the German double world champion could not improve on his initial time at the end of the session. Vettel cut a disconsolate stance as he got out of his car in Parc Ferme, clearly disappointed to have missed out on a 35th career pole position today.
Hamilton never really seemed to have the pace to challenge the two Red Bull drivers, despite admitting that he ‘ragged the life out of the car and got everything from it’ during Q3. Nevertheless, he described third place as ‘very satisfying’ and promised to go ‘all-out for the win’ in tomorrow’s race.
His reflexes were definitely tested early in Q3 when, as he headed down the pit-lane towards the track, Mercedes sent Michael Schumacher out of the garage directly in front of him. An alert Hamilton dodged around the silver car to avert disaster, but Mercedes were still given a €10,000 fine for an unsafe release.
Alonso, who had to burn a set of the valuable super-soft tyres in Q1 to ensure progress through the session, and still finished that stage down in P16, the fact that he put the car on the second row of the grid is quite an achievement. Team-mate Felipe Massa, who seems to have new-found confidence after finishing second in Japan last weekend, will start the Korean Grand Prix from sixth.
Romain Grosjean, the so-called ‘first-lap nutcase’, will be hoping to avoid any early calamities from his starting position of seventh whilst Nico Hulkenberg, who starts alongside the Frenchman on Row 4, will also be hoping for a quiet start to the race.
The two Mercedes drivers did a solid job of getting through to Q3 today, and will both start from Row 5. Nico Rosberg out-qualified Schumacher.
Button will be the first of the drivers with a choice of tyre compounds on which to start the race, and he will be joined on Row 6 by future team-mate Sergio Perez.
Daniel Ricciardo, whoseToro Rosso simply lost drive during Q2 – bringing out those yellow flags that ruined Button’s session – qualified sixteenth. However, the Australian fears he may have to serve a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
Bruno Senna did nothing to improve his prospects of staying in Formula 1 after getting knocked out of qualifying at the end of Q1 for the second race in a row, and the bottom six driver in qualifying were the usual suspects.
Charles Pic qualified in P21 but will serve a ten-place penalty for using his ninth engine of the season – only eight are permitted for the 20 races – and Narain Karthikeyan, who failed to set a time during qualifying after his HRT developed a mechanical problem, will be allowed to race by the stewards.