India Quali Recap: Vettel takes pole as others play strategy game

Sebastian Vettel (1:24.119) won pole for the 2013 Indian Grand Prix, continuing his domination of the weekend. He led all sessions but Q1, including all three practice sessions. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were close but not close enough, while Mark Webber qualified fourth fastest on the harder tyre compound. He, Fernando Alonso, and Jenson Button (the latter two eighth and tenth fastest, respectively) will start on those medium tyres. As the soft tyres were blistering quite badly, tyre strategy will play a large decision in the race on Sunday.

Though Q1 seemed fairly typical, it saw much interesting strategy decisions as some of the typical top ten drivers used soft tyres, possibly figuring on starting on medium tyres for the race. Romain Grosjean looked safe enough and pitted after some scruffy laps, but missed the cutoff and was knocked out in Q1, seventeenth fastest. Q2 saw both McLarens get through, with Button faster on the used softs than the fresh ones. Alonso looked healthy, going second fastest, three tenths off Vettel’s pace.

Vettel and Webber spent Friday at the top of the timesheets in India, leading Rosberg, Grosjean, and Hamilton in the morning practice and Grosjean, Hamilton, and Alonso in the afternoon. Vettel bettered his personal fastest time by nearly a second between the ninety minute sessions, with Webber close to his teammate’s time. The Australian improved his own time by Vettel’s second and lost a tenth, to sit nearly three tenths off Vettel’s pace at the end of Friday’s running.

Neither Friday practice saw much beyond the typical shorter and longer runs, though Alonso did have gearbox issues in FP1 that left him only twelfth fastest in that session. Williams and Maldonado had a costly Friday, with the Venezuelan again losing a tyre off a lost wheel nut. The team would be fined 60,000 Euro for the second race weekend in a row.

The Vettel-Webber duo stayed on top in the final session Saturday morning, despite low visibility that shortened the running to forty minutes. Alonso, Hulkenberg, and Grosjean rounded out the top five. Though the session was fairly uneventful but for Vettel’s  and other’s issues with blistering on the softer tyres (Pirelli brough the soft and medium compounds), Hulkenberg did run into one of his Mercedes mechanics. The crew member appeared to be unhurt, standing back up after the impact on his own.

Gutierrez got the twenty minutes of Q1 started straight away, with the visibility well enough to keep from delaying qualifying. Still, the sky was quite hazy. Rosberg soon joined him, as the teams and drivers took their typical time in working early in Q1. A few drivers trickled out onto the track after Rosberg. Five minutes into the session, only Red Bull, Alonso, Grosjean, Maldonado, Bottas, and Pic had not yet begun setting laps. Gutierrez led the early times, only until Rosberg (1:26.622) and Hamilton bettered his time. The young Mexican soon dropped to eighth fastest, with di Resta splitting the Mercedes drivers.

By halfway, Perez (1:26.533) had eclipsed Rosberg’s earlier time. Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, di Resta, Hamilton, Sutil, Massa, Button, and Vergne rounded out the fastest ten. Grosjean, Vettel, Webber, and Alonso had yet to set times. Rosberg and Perez continued to switch places as each improved. Ricciardo soon moved up to sixth, with Button also improving.

When seven minutes remained, Gutierrez (1:26.057) popped back to fastest with the soft tyres, as only Webber remained in the garage. Alonso had joined on the soft tyre, even as most of the other drivers had returned to the garage. Webber, when he joined moments later, also used the soft tyre.

With those soft tyres, Alonso (1:25.934) went fastest, but was just a tenth faster than Gutierrez. Vettel’s first lap on the medium tyres put him second fastest, with Webber third as the rest of the field returned to the track. Gutierrez, Rosberg, Perez, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Hamilton, and Button rounded out the top ten then.

Vergne, Maldonado, Bianchi, van der Garde, Pic, and Chilton were in the kockout zone with two minutes remaining. Alonso pitted to end his session, only to have di Resta go fastest. Massa nipped back out for another timed lap from fourteenth as the cutoff time to move on to Q2 tumbled. Raikkonen soon went to the top of the timesheets, with only Alonso and Gutierrez in the garage with a minute. Drivers continued to improve at the top, but those about to be knocked out were not quite ready to improve.

Ricciardo went second, just slower than the man he will replace at Red Bull next year. As the flag waved, van der Garde, Bottas, Maldonado, Bianchi, Pic, and Chilton were about to be knoced out. Perez moved up to eleventh, dropped Massa to the knockout zone. The Brazilian moved himself up to fourth, dropping Grosjean. He had pitted on a ragged lap. In the end, Button (1:25.574) led Webber, Ricciardo, Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, di Resta, and Alonso. Vettel was eleventh fastest.

Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Romain Grosjean
18. Pastor Maldonado
19. Jules Bianchi
20. Giedo van der Garde
21. Charles Pic
22. Max Chilton

No one bit to get out immediately as the fifteen minutes of Q2 began, with Raikkonen beginning the running a minute into the session. Alonso soon followed, with radio issues (Ferrari tweeted, “Algunos problemas con el sistema de radio en el coche de ALO.”). Quickly, eleven of the sixteen drivers competing in Q2 began lapping. With ten to go, only Red Bull, McLaren, and Bottas still remained in the garage. Though many were on used softs, Hulkenberg looked to set his first time on the harder, medium tyres.

Alonso (1:25.546) and Massa took the early lead with nine minutes to go. Di Resta, Vergne, and Raikkonen rounded out the top five then. The Ferraris would not lead for long, with Rosberg (1:25.337) and Hamilton going faster. They led at halfway, with di Resta, Vergne, Sutil, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, and Hulkenberg the top ten at halfway. They were then the only men to have set times. Alonso returned to the garage with his race engineer telling him he’d talking to know if they could hear each other.

Button went second fastest with just over six minutes to go on used softs, as Webber and Vettel joined the fray. Neither they nor Gutierrez had yet set a time. Gutierrez left the garage with five minutes to go. Raikkonen, Ricciardo, and Hulkenberg were in the knockout zone with the three drivers without a time. Webber’s (1:25.097) first lap put him fastest, only to have his teammate beat him by very nearly a half second. Bottas, Vergne, Sutil, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, and Gutierrez, who had just joined for the first time on the session, were in the relegation zone with two minutes to go. Everyone was then on the track.

Alonso soon split the Red Bulls as Webber had been told to do a slow lap then go again. Vettel pitted in the final minute, as did Raikkonen from fourth fastest. Ricciardo improved to eighth on his last lap, with Hulkenberg popping up to sixth. Perez moved up to seventh, dropping Massa to eleventh, only for the Brizilian to move up to eighth. Di Resta could not improve. Hamilton had been on the bubble, but he moved to fifth. Button, though unable to improve, remained safe enough to move on to Q3 after a slow lap from Gutierrez. Vettel (1:24.568) led Alonso, Webber, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Perez, Massa, and Button off to fight for pole in Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Daniel Ricciardo
12. Paul di Resta
13. Adrian Sutil
14. Jean-Eric Vernge
15. Valtteri Bottas
16. Esteban Gutierrez

Webber went out to wait for a few seconds at the end of pit lap to begin the ten minutes of Q3. Alonso was right behind him, both on the medium tyres, only the latter did not have to wait for the light to go green. Vettel joined them as the rest of the field remained snug in their garages. They would not stay there long, with six of ten out in the first two minutes of the session. The drivers had a fair mix of both softs and mediums, used and fresh tyres. Alonso’s first lap was a second slower than his fastest in Q2, with Webber well off the pace behind him. Vettel (1:24.119) next went fastest. He led at halfway, with no one else yet setting a time. Button, Rosberg, and Hamilton all returned to the garage with set sector times but no lap times.

Button soon rejoined, with teammate Perez out for his first set of laps with four minutes to go. Raikkonen and Rosberg joined them, as did Hamilton. Both Mercedes drivers were out on the soft tyres, while the rest (Hamilton, Rosberg, Raikkonen) were on the soft tyres. With two minutes to go everyone was on the track. Vettel rejoined on the soft tyre, with Webber and Alonso on the mediums.

Hamilton’s first timed lap put him third, just slower than teammate Rosberg in second. Raikkonen pitted from fifth, ending his qualifying. Webber remained fourth, with Massa fifth. Alonso remained eight. With some drivers on the mediums, and Vettel’s impossibly quick time, no one could catch the German.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 Indian Grand Prix:

1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:24.11912
2. Nico RosbergMercedes1:24.87121
3. Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:24.94120
4. Mark WebberRed Bull1:25.04717
5. Felipe MassaFerrari1:25.20119
6. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:25.24818
7. Nico HulkenbergSauber1:25.33419
8. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:25.82615
9. Sergio PerezMcLaren1:25.15321
10. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:26.48723
11. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:26.51914
12. Paul di RestaForce India1:26.71115
13. Adrian SutilForce India1:26.74016
14. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:26.79814
15. Valtteri BottasWilliams1:26.13415
16. Esteban GutierrezSauber1:26.33611
17. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:26.5777
18. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:26.8429
19. Jules BianchiMarussia1:26.9708
20. Giedo van der GardeCaterham1:27.1056
21. Charles PicCaterham1:27.4877
22. Max ChiltonMarussia1:28.1388
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