Vettel on pole in Suzuka after chaotic qualy; Button and Barrichello hit with grid penalties.
Sebastian Vettel took pole position by an impressive margin in an incident-packed qualifying session for the Japanese Grand Prix. The qualifying hour, which ironically enjoyed the best conditions of the weekend as bright sunshine hit the Suzuka circuit, was stopped no fewer than three times in response to big incidents involving Jaime Alguersuari and Timo Glock in Q2, and Heikki Kovalainen in Q3.
But it was Toro Rosso rookie Sebastian Buemi that indirectly caused the biggest damage, at least as far as the battle for world championship is concerned. The Swiss driver crashed his car on the exit of the Spoon curve but carried on driving his damaged car back to the pits.
Championship leader Jenson Button and his teammate and title rival Rubens Barrichello – as well as Adrian Sutil and Fernando Alonso – were all docked with five place grid penalties for not slowing down under the wave yellow flags, induced by Buemi.
That means Button, who only has to finish five points ahead of Barrichello to be crowned world champion this weekend, will start the race from twelfth place where there is a real risk of him being caught in a first corner tangle. He starts two places behind Rubens Barrichello in tenth after the Brawn drivers posted the fifth and seventh quickest times before receiving their penalties.
Button conceded that he will have to reconsider his race strategy.
“Rubens is starting just in front of me, and there are a couple of slow cars in front of him, so it s going to be an exciting race for us I think in the first few laps,â€ he said. “Trying to sort out a strategy from here is going to be very difficult.”
“I’ve got cars in front of me with 25kg more fuel on board, and if I can t pass them then that s the end of the race. It s going to be quite an aggressive race I think from Rubens and myself we ve got Sutil in the mix there as well with low fuel, and [Giancarlo] Fisichella behind me with KERS which is a little frustrating.
Going into Q3 there were concerns about Timo Glock who was pitched into the tyre wall at the final corner after he ran wide exiting the final chicane. The German driver appeared to escape serious injury since he started to climb out of the cockpit, but he then followed the advice given to all the drivers this weekend to remain in their car in the event of a big accident.
After being extracted from the cockpit by the medical team and taken to the medical centre for examination, he was flown to the nearest hospital for treatment to a “leg wound”.
Proceedings were delayed further when Heikki Kovalainen spun off at Degner, replicating previous incidents involving Mark Webber and Jaimie Alguersuari, the latter driver walking away from what was the biggest impact at the corner.
The delay meant that it was a full six minutes before a driver at posted a time in Q3. Kimi Raikkonen laid down the gauntlet on a 1:33.010, but that was smashed by Sebastian Vettel who went almost a full second quicker than the Ferrari driver.
Jarno Trulli slotted into second place, finally giving Toyota something to smile about at their home circuit, while Lewis Hamilton, who has been relishing throwing his McLaren car around the Suzuka circuit for the first time, went third quickest.
Qualifying – how it happened
There was drama at Suzuka even before qualifying had begun as news filtered through that Mark Webber would not be taking part in the session after he crashed heavily at Degner during final practice – forcing Red Bull to make a chassis change.
Then, five minutes into Q2, Toro Rosso rookie Jaime Alguersuari wrecked his car in identical fashion by running wide at the same corner and ploughing into the tyre wall. Alguersuari walked away unscathed but he was taken to the medical centre for precautionary checks.
No sooner had the session got underway, the red flags were out in response to a nasty – and unusual – incident involving Toyota’s Timo Glock. The German driver ran wide exiting the final chicane and when his car hit the gravel it straightened up and pitched him deep into the tyre barrier.
Glock appeared to have escaped any serious injury, but all the drivers were told to say in their cockpits this weekend if they suffered an accident. The Toyota driver was promptly extracted from his cockpit by the medical crew, giving the thumbs up to the crowd. He was taken to the medical centre, where it was reported that he had sustained a leg wound. Glock was then taken to the nearest hospital
To add to an already disrupted Q2, Sebastian Buemi lost control of his car on the exit of Spoon leaving debris on the circuit at the end of the session. The Swiss driver was clearly pushing hard and he did enough to progress to Q3. He starts tenth, behind Kovalainen and Kimi Raikkonen.
Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso just missed the Q3 cut-off and will start in eleventh and twelfth respectively, ahead of Robert Kubica and the Q2 casualties Timo Glock and Jaimie Alguersuari – should they be fit to take part in the race.
Giancarlo Fisichella’s miserable stint at Ferrari continued. The best the Italian veteran could muster was sixteenth place, ahead of local favourite Kazuki Nakajima in the sister Williams.
Romain Grosjean compounded Renault’s problems at Suzuka in eighteenth place – the R29 clearly not enjoying the high speed characteristics of the track.
If his Red Bull car is ready for the race, Mark Webber will start from last place – and that plays into the hands of Jenson Button who has one less driver to take points away from him this weekend.
[Click HERE for the revised grid order following the aforementioned grid penalties]
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:32.160 2 Jarno Trulli Toyota 0:00.938 3 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 0:01.113 4 Adrian Sutil Force India 0:01.184 5 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 0:01.378 6 Nick Heidfeld BMW 0:01.663 7 Jenson Button Brawn 0:01.680 8 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari 0:01.698 9 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren no time 10 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso no time 11 Nico Rosberg Williams 0:00.000 12 Fernando Alonso Renault 0:00.119 13 Robert Kubica BMW 0:00.135 14 Timo Glock Toyota no time 15 Alguersuari Jaime Toro Rosso no time 16 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India 0:00.422 17 Kazuki Nakajima Williams 0:00.436 18 Romain Grosjean Renault 0:00.791 19 Vitantanio Liuzzi Force India 0:00.805 20 Mark Webber Red Bull no time