Sebastian Vettel will start the Korean Grand Prix from the front of the grid, ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.
After cruising through the first two segments of qualifying, Vettel appeared equally comfortable in Q3. He set the pace with his first run in the segment, a lap of 1:37.202 and as his close rivals failed to get near that time on their second runs, Vettel, who was last to leave the pit lane for his final lap, could relax in the knowledge that even a compromised warm-up lap on his last run wouldn’t deny him a 42nd career pole position.
“I had a very, very good lap in Q3, my first attempt,” said Vettel afterwards. “I knew it would be tricky to beat that time – for myself. I tried again but on the second run I caught, I think, Kimi on the warm-up lap and I was a little bit too close. We didn’t have that much time in hand to drop back further, so not ideal but fortunately the first lap was good enough.”
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will line up on the grid beside the championship leader, finishing two tenths behind Vettel.
“I felt like I got the most out of the car and perhaps there’s always a little bit of room to improve,” said the Briton. “But in general it’s been a good weekend so far, so I really hope that tomorrow we’re able to fight with the [Red Bulls]. We’ll wait and see.”
Mark Webber qualified third for Red Bull Racing but will start 13th tomorrow due to the 10-place grid penalty he received after getting a third reprimand of the season from the FIA race stewards in Singapore.
After qualifying in Korea, the Australian admitted the team had compromised the outright pace of his car with an eye to setting up his car for racing from a lower grid position than normal.
“We had to take a bit of pace out of the car,” he said. “Not much but just looking at how we would compromise quali a little bit more for the race.
“I’m actually pretty happy with quali,” he added. “I could be two positions further up but that means I’d be 11th instead of 13th with the penalty. It was pretty tight, with two Mercs, Seb and myself. It was a good little battle. I think the race will be interesting. Obviously [I’m] well and truly out of position but we will fight and come back through.”
Fourth place went to Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, with Nico Rosberg fifth in the second Mercedes. The Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were sixth and seventh respectively. It was another good day for Sauber, with Nico Hulkenberg eighth and Esteban Gutierrez ninth, the first time since the Japanese Grand Prix of last year that the team has had both drivers in Q3. Tenth place in the session went to Kimi Raikkonen in the second Lotus.
All will move up a place on the grid thanks to Webber’s penalty, as will the McLarens of Sergio Perez (11th), Jenson Button (12th) and 13th-placed qualifier Daniel Ricciardo.
Elsewhere, the result was largely as expected, with the Marussias set to start on row 11, behind the Caterham and Williams cars. Jean Eric Vergne will then start 16th for Toro Rosso, behind the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta, who finished 14th and 15th respectively.
At the front, though, Vettel continues to dominate and even the rain forecast for race day would not, he said, dampen his spirits.
“It’s not a disaster if it starts to rain,” he said. “I think tomorrow should be fine in terms of conditions – whether it is dry or wet. If we get some of the rain from the typhoon isn’t 100 per cent clear at the moment but, as I said, it doesn’t matter. Most important is that we did the job today and [I’m] looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
2013 Korean Grand Prix Qualifying times
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:37.202
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.420
3 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:37.464
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:37.531
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.679
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.038
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:38.223
8 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:38.237
9 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:38.405
10 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:38.822
11 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:38.362
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.365
13 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:38.417
14 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:38.431
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:38.718
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:38.781
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:39.470
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:39.987
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:40.864
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:40.871
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:41.169
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:41.322