That Red Bull locked out the front row of the grid ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix was perhaps not the biggest surprise we’ve had this season.
But thanks to Mark Webber managing to get the better of his team mate in qualifying for the first time in 2013, the race has all the makings of a classic.
Webber has had some truly awful luck this year. Twice has he lost a wheel (the second time his tyre memorably hit a cameraman in the pit lane) and twice has his car been on fire. There was also the controversial “taxigate” from Singapore that saw the Australian pick up his third reprimand and therefore a ten place grid penalty.
But for once, the luck was on his side. Sebastian Vettel had been struggling with an intermittent KERS problem right from FP3, and without it he may well have taken yet another pole position. That is not to take anything away from Webber’s performance however, and the future Porsche driver made the most of the opportunity to take pole with a brilliant lap.
Make no mistakes either that “AussieGrit” will be determined to secure one last victory before bowing out of Formula One. As many of his fellow Australian racing drivers will be entering the final stages of their biggest race of the year, the Bathurst 1000, Webber will be preparing himself ahead of a real chance to win at a circuit he loves.
Webber’s chance at victory will most likely rest in the opening seconds of the race. His starts have been incredibly inconsistent at times this year, but if he can get a clean start, and remain in the lead by turn one, he’ll be able to control the rest of the race.
There is of course the Vettel factor. Sebastian will be mindful that he has a chance to wrap up a fourth consecutive title tomorrow, but for that to happen, he’ll need to win and hope Alonso has a shocker. Will Vettel go for broke in risking it for a victory, or take a more circumspect approach? Given previous form, you’d have to say the latter is fairly unlikely.
What about team orders? Should the situation arise where Webber is leading, and Alonso is outside the top nine, will they ask Mark to pull over and let Vettel win? Even if there is such an order, it is hard to imagine Webber paying any attention to it, particularly after the events of Malaysia earlier this year.
It therefore has the makings of another fiery encounter between the two Red Bull drivers. When you add in Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean doing their best to take it to the Bulls, it looks like being an extremely interesting race.
Of course, further interest will be provided by Alonso and Raikkonen. How much progress they can make up through the order will be something to monitor closely over the race distance. Will Alonso still be in title contention by the end of the day?
It’s certainly something that is not to be missed.