Webber ends Vettel’s hot-streak in Japan
Red Bull duo reverse roles as Kers fault disrupts German’s practice session at Suzuka
Red Bull Formula One driver Mark Webber of Australia in his car during the third practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters
After claiming pole at the last three races this year, and the last four at Suzuka, the German’s dominant run was finally ended by the 37-year-old Australian, in his final year in Formula One before heading off to drive Porsche sportscars.
Webber finished 0.174 seconds clear of Vettel with a lap of one minute 30.915 seconds.
Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton was the best of the rest and will start third, but was three tenths of a second adrift of Webber such is the apparent superiority of Red Bull at this track.
For Webber, it was his 12th career pole, and his first since last year’s Korean Grand Prix.
Vettel heads into the race knowing another victory, allied to Fernando Alonso finishing ninth or lower, will see him crowned champion for a fourth successive year.
Lotus’s Romain Grosjean lines up fourth ahead of Massa, with German duo Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg sixth and seventh respectively in their Mercedes and Sauber.
Behind Alonso will be Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen, with McLaren’s Jenson Button 10th.
It was a qualifying that saw two fires in the opening 20 minutes, the first a flash one at the back of Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber as he was sat in the garage.
With flames shooting up in the air for a few seconds, Gutierrez beat a hasty exit from the cockpit, but it did not prove too detrimental as the Mexican was able to return to the track.
With just under three minutes of the first session remaining, the brakes on Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso then set alight.
As the Frenchman pulled to one side of the track, two marshals were quickly on the scene with extinguishers.
But with smoke billowing across the circuit, race director Charlie Whiting was forced to red flag the session, causing a five-minute delay whilst the stricken car was cleared.
Team principal Franz Tost said: “The rear brakes overheated and caught fire. We never had this before, and normally here at Suzuka you don’t have any problems with the brakes.”
Out of qualifying, Vergne could only watch the conclusion to Q1 from the side of the circuit, ultimately falling to 18th behind Adrian Sutil in his Force India.
Remarkably, from Rosberg who was third quickest in Q1, just six tenths of a second separated the two Germans such was the close-knit nature of the session.
Behind Vergne, Marussia’s Max Chilton out-qualified team-mate Jules Bianchi for only the second time this year, and both Caterhams.
Chilton last beat Bianchi in Monaco, although the latter suffered an engine failure, so on this occasion the 22-year-old Briton achieved the feat in a straight fight.
Chilton will line up 19th, followed by Caterham duo Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic, the latter dropping a place due to a penalty, with Bianchi 22nd and last.
As for Gutierrez, who made it into Q2, he will line up 14th behind compatriot Sergio Perez who starts 11th, with Paul Di Resta 12th in his Force India and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas who is 13th.
Behind Gutierrez will be the second Williams of Pastor Maldonado and Daniel Ricciardo in his Toro Rosso, which underwent numerous checks before the Australian was sent out in light of Vergne’s car fire.
As a mark of respect the majority of the drivers wore a red star on their helmets in memory of former Marussia test driver Maria De Villota who died on Friday at the age of 33.
Vettel had suffered an issue with Kers in final practice, and it materialised again in Q3 on his first hot lap. That led to Webber claiming his pole was “a bit hollow”, although he added: “You still have to put the laps in. In the end we did the laps when it counted and that’s all that matters, so very nice to have pole here on my final attempt at Suzuka.
“I’ll never forget the first sector. It’s what we all strive for as drivers. That was a real highlight.”
Vettel refused to blame Kers for his failure to claim pole as he said: “We had a problem this morning, but that didn’t result in us having a problem finding the rhythm. We did have an issue in qualifying, but I’m not a big of fan of complaining I was without this or that.
“The car was still phenomenal, particularly through the first sector. You don’t get many days when the car is that great and you can push to the limit. I enjoyed qualifying and I’m happy with second place.”
As for Hamilton, against the Red Bulls, he knew he had done all he could.
“I’m really happy. The team has done a great job so far,” assessed Hamilton. “Realistically it was almost impossible to finish ahead of these guys, but we’ve come a long way to be as good as we are.”