Ahead of the Indian Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing locked-out its third front row start in succession.
For Vettel it was pole number 35, and with Mark Webber alongside him on the front row, Red Bull made it the perfect Saturday. “It was a tight session, especially in the end,” said Vettel of Red Bull Racing’s third pole position in three races. “On my first run, I did a mistake in turn four and had to abort the lap, so we obviously decided to go for another run. I got the lap together and was very happy with the lap itself. Here and there potentially could have been a bit faster, especially around turn four because the second time I made sure I wasn’t locking up the fronts but all in all a great weekend so far, no problems with the car.”
Webber, meanwhile, said he was happy to make the front row as he wasn’t expecting to be so highly placed. “I did my best, it was a pretty tight run thing between both Seb and I and then I didn’t get to do my last attempt,” he said. “I was surprised to end up second, to be honest, but I’ll take that and we can have a good race from there tomorrow.”
After the phoney war of the first two parts of the session, which saw the pair cruise through comfortably, the battle heated up in the final top-10 shootout and both drivers found themselves pushing hard to establish dominance. First to err was Vettel, last year’s Indian GP winner suffering a lock-up at turn four, an error that left Webber in provisional pole position.
"Obviously, I’m very happy to be on pole; it’s the best possible position to start but there’s a hard race coming up tomorrow."
Vettel was forced into making a second run but when he failed to improve in the opening two sectors of the lap, it looked as if his team-mate’s time of 1:25.283 would be good enough for P1. However, the defending champion delivered a big performance in the final sector to cross the line 0.044 ahead of Webber. The Australian tried to respond, but then came his difficulties with getting the tyres up to temperature behind the McLarens and he was forced to abandon the attempt and settle for second.
Row two for tomorrow’s race will see Lewis Hamilton line up ahead of McLaren team-mate Button, while Seb’s main championship rival, Fernando Alonso, will start in fifth place, just ahead of Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa. Vettel, though, is taking nothing for granted and refused to accept that Alonso’s starting position was good news for his title bid.
“You know the races these days,” he said. “You know a lot of things can happen so I don’t think [Alonso’s position] means a lot. Obviously, I’m very happy to be on pole; it’s the best possible position to start but there’s a hard race coming up tomorrow. I think we had a bit of a surprise on Friday in terms of long runs; everyone was quite competitive and tyres seemed to last reasonably well so we’ll see what that means for strategy tomorrow.”
Alonso, meanwhile, admitted that Ferrari simply lacked the pace to take the fight to McLaren and Red Bull Racing and added that he will have to treat every lap of tomorrow’s race like a qualifying lap if he is to have any hope of victory. “We tried to get the most out of what we had but there was no way we could be ahead of the Red Bulls and the McLarens,” he said. “In the end fifth place is not so bad, because it would have been easy to end up evenfurther back if anything had gone wrong.
“Today it was impossible to fight [Red Bull],” he added. “When we had a similar car it was possible to fight with Vettel and we have even been ahead of them but now we are fighting against Newey and at the moment we cannot match him.”
“We tried to get the most out of what we had but there was no way we could be ahead of the Red Bulls and the McLarens.”
Behind the Ferraris, Kimi Raikkonen will start seventh, ahead of Sergio Perez, Pastor Maldonado and tenth-placed Nico Rosberg who did not set a time. The German’s team-mate Michael Schumacher endured another tough qualifying session however failing to make it through to Q3 for the 11th time this season. Afterwards the seven-time champion was at a loss to explain the lack of pace that leaves him 14th on the grid for tomorrow’s race.
“I cannot really explain why, particularly when I compare the times to what I did this morning,” he said. “In practice, we were able to run similar lap times with much more fuel in the car but, for whatever reason, we were unable to get the tyres into the right working window and generate enough grip this afternoon. That means I am starting from quite an unpromising position tomorrow, but it also makes our tactics much simpler: we have to look forward and battle hard.”
Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo was also left somewhat dissatisfied with how his afternoon turned out. The Australian had put in a big lap to escape the Q1 drop zone, though at the expense of team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne, but after finishing 12th in the opening segment, he couldn’t find a similarly good lap in the second session and will start 15th, three spots ahead of Vergne. “That was quite a good session for me and I was pretty happy with my laps,” he said. “However, my last run in Q2 was a bit scrappy. I had hoped to get a bit closer to Q3, but looking at our pace this morning, we did make a small step forward for qualifying.”