Suzuka Quali Recap: Vettel keeps pole as Raikkonen spins

Sebastian Vettel (1:30.839) won pole for the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix as a spin by Kimi Raikkonen kept other drivers from setting faster times in the final seconds after the flag in Q3. Mark Webber will start second, with Jenson Button, Kamui Kobayashi, and Romain Grosjean setting the rest of the top five fastest times. Qualifying remained a relatively uneventful set of sessions, with Senna dropping out in Q1, though Williams complained of blocking, and Schumacher the big name out in Q2. Button will receive a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change before the weekend began, while Schumacher began the penalty tally with a ten place penalty for running into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne in Singapore. As Q3 ended, word came that Hulkenberg would also receive a five place penalty for a gearbox change. Championship leader Fernando Alonso qualified only seventh fastest, two tenths faster than rival Lewis Hamilton, who qualified ninth fastest.

Button (1:34.507) led the first practice session, just two tenths faster than teammate Hamilton. Webber, Rosberg, and Schumacher rounded out the top five when the ninety minute session ended. Ferrari only joined the action after the first half hour had elapsed. At that point, Hamilton led with Perez just over two seconds behind. That did not stand long, as Massa immediately took over position from the Mexican. By halfway, Webber had eclipsed Hamilton, with Kobayashi, Massa, and Hulkenberg the top five. Alonso sat down in eighth, receiving a new front wing. Meanwhile, Button and Di Resta had yet to set times with just over a half hour remaining. He soon went to the top of the timesheets. Though little other than improving lap times occurred, Rosberg ended his session a few minutes early by stopping at the edge of the track at the S curves. Massa ended his session seventh, Alonso eleventh, and Vettel seventeenth.

The second Friday practice  held more excitement occurred, as both Di Resta and Schumacher crashed at the Spoon corner. The Scot did so early, bringing out the red flag, while Schumacher also dipped his wheels over the kerb and spun without a pause in the proceedings. Webber (1:32.493) led the timesheets at the end of the session. Hamilton, Vettel, Hulkenberg, and Alonso completed the top five. Raikkonen managed only thirteenth fastest, as he spent most of the day in the garage with KERs battery fluid leaking onto the floor. Button, fastest in the first session, ended Friday’s running seventh fastest, Schumacher tenth, and Rosberg eleventh after an engine change. Red Bull kept Vettel in the garage for the first half hour, as Ferrari had done with its drivers in the first session, only to see the German go straight to the top on his first run. Times and the order changed throughout the session, though most teams focused on long runs in the final ten minutes. Petrov ended the session without a rear wing, sliding into the gravel at Turn 1 after it had fallen off on the front straight.

For the final practice, Vettel (1:32.136) led Webber, Massa, Schumacher, and Perez as the fastest five. Hulkenberg ended his session earliest, throwing the front of his Force India into the barrier at the second Degner turn. Hamilton ended the session thirteenth after not setting a proper fast lap time on the softer tyre compound as Pic crashed in front of him. Otherwise, the session was relatively uneventful as drivers and teams concentrated on both long runs and final qualifying setup.

Di Resta led the way out onto the circuit, more than a minute into the twenty minutes of Q1, with Perez following him onto the circuit. Early on, Grosjean led the way over Raikkonen, Senna, and Di Resta, though by halfway Massa led the way. Webber, Grosjean, Senna, and Alonso completed the top five. Hamilton had barely set a time, while de la Rosa, Karthikeyan, Vettel, Maldonado, Schumacher, and Hulkenberg completed those in the knockout zone, all without a time. Hamilton soon went fifth fastest, just a tenth and a half slower than his teammate.

With six minutes to go, Massa led the way, though Vettel soon overtook his laptime. He led with five minutes to go, over Maldonado, Mass, Webber, Hamilton, Button, Grosjean, Alonso, Senna, and Raikkonen as the top ten. Petrov, de la Rosa, Glock, Pic, and Karthikeyan all sat in the relegation zone, alongside Schumacher and Hulkenberg, neither of whom had yet set a time. The younger German soon scooted up to second fastest on the softer compound, just before Raikkonen went fastest of all. Perez, then Kobayashi went fastest on a set of soft tyres, as Schumacher remained in the bottom seven. Grosejean set another fastest time as the seconds ticked away, leaving Schumacher to nearly drop out in the first Q1 after his second retirement announcement. In the end, Grosjean (1:32.029) led Kobayashi, Perez, Raikkonen, Alonso, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Di Resta, and Massa as the top ten. Schumacher popped up to sixteenth fastest, dropping Senna out in Q1.

Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Bruno Senna
19. Heikki Kovalainen
20. Timo Glock
21. Pedro de la Rosa
22. Charles Pic
23. Vitaly Petrov
24. Narain Karthiekyan

Again, the fifteen minutes of Q2 began with no running at all. Hulkenberg and Kobayashi led the way out onto the track, nearly two minutes into the fifteen minute session. Kobayashi’s first time was faster by three tenths, with Perez slotting in behind the first two. Soon, however, Vettel took the fastest time, followed by Hamilton, who was soon displaced by teammate Button. Massa sat fourth as halfway approached, only to drop to fifth as Webber slid into third fastest. Koabayshi, Grosjen, Alonso, Raikkonen, and Perez rounded out the top ten at halfway. Schumacher remained in the garage. All the drivers returned to the garage when just under six minutes remained.

Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Rosberg, Di Resta, Ricciardo, Vergne, and Schumacher all sat in the knockout zone with five minutes to go. Alonso and Schumacher rejoined first, as other drivers followed them out. Quickly, all but top three Vettel, Button, and Webber had rejoined. Schumacher had yet to post a time in Q2 with a minute to go, while Perez, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Ricciardo, and Vergne joined him in the knockout zone. Alonso popped up to third fastest in that final minute, with Kobayashi following him through to fourth. Raikkonen followed them to third. At then end of Q2, Vettel (1:31.501) led Button, Raikkonen, Alonso, Kobayshi, Weber, Grosjean, Hamilton, Perez, and Hulkenberg as those fighting for pole in the final ten minutes of Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Felipe Massa
12. Paul Di Resta
13. Michael Schumacher
14. Pastor Maldonado
15. Nico Rosberg
16. Daniel Ricciardo
17. Jean-Eric Vergne

Raikkonen began the ten minutes of Q3, followed by Hamilton, just under a minute into the session. More than half the other drivers quickly followed. The Finn net the first time, a 1:32.208, even as the following drivers set fastest sector times. Vettel went faster than Raikkonen, then Button split the two. Hamilton slotted in behind Raikkonen on a used set of softer tyres, while Webber moved up to provisionally lock out the front row.

Vettel (1:30.839) led at halfway, over Webber, Button Grosjean, Raikkonen, and Hamilton. Alonso, Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, and Perez had all not yet set a time. As the final two minutes ticked away, all ten headed out onto the track. Vettel looked to improve his own provisional pole time as the checkered flag began to wave. Perez’s time was fifth fastest just before Raikkonen spun at Spoon, bringing out the yellow flags in the middle sector. The Finn spun and lost control as he went to flick the Lotus back onto the track. Kobayashi moved up to fourth just before the spin, as Button went third fastest. After Raikkonen’s spin, few drivers could really challenge the fastest times under caution in the middle sector. Vettel kept his pole, leaving Webber to lock out the front row. Button set the third fastest time, despite his gearbox penalty, with Kobayashi ready to move up to that starting position.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix:

1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:30.83911
2. Mark WebberRed Bull1:31.09015
3. Jenson Button*McLaren1:31.29014
4. Kamui KobayashiSauber1:31.70016
5. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:31.89820
6. Sergio PerezSauber1:32.02220
7. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:32.11417
8. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:32.20818
9. Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1:32.32717
10. Nico Hulkenberg*Force Indian/t12
11. Felipe MassaFerrari1:32.29312
12. Paul Di RestaForce India1:32.32714
13. Michael Schumacher**Mercedes1:32.46910
14. Pasto MaldonadoWilliams1:32.51211
15. Nico RosbergMercedes1:32.62516
16. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:32.95414
17. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:33.36814
18. Bruno SennaWilliams1:33. 4058
19. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1:33.6576
20. Timo GlockMarussia1:35.2138
21. Pedro de la RosaHRT1:35.3856
22. Charles PicCaterham1:35.4298
23. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1:35.4328
24. Narain KarthikeyanHRT1:36.7346

*five place grid penalty

**ten place grid penalty

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