Mark Webber (1:30.915) stole the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix pole from teammate Sebastian Vettel, posting a faster time during both of the Q3 runs to take his first pole position at Suzuka. Lewis Hamilton snuck through to be the best of the rest, beating Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa, and his own teammate Nico Rosberg, who populate the top three starting rows for Sunday’s race. Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, and Jenson Button rounded out the top ten in what again turned out to be a single lap run for most of those still running in Q3.
Q2 felt fairly typical, though Vettel, Webber, and Grosjean all moved forward by sitting still. They left everyone else to fight over the other seven positions in the final lap shoot-out. In that, Massa set the session fastest final sector to ensure he’d be able to qualify in the top ten. Jean-Eric Vergne caused a red flag with three minutes to go in Q1, leaving much of the field to jump at a straight single lap run to move on to Q2.
Vergne’s was not the only fire of the session, as Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber caught fire in the garage. The crew quickly extinguished it, and Gutierrez soon rejoined the session. Jules Bianchi suffered a ten place grid penalty for his third reprimand of the season last weekend in Korea, as did Charles Pic, while Adrian Sutil will drop five places for a gearbox change after his crash in the final practice.
Friday’s practice sessions were marked by incidents. Jules Bianchi and Giedo van der Garde both went off into the tyre barriers in the morning, while Pastor Maldonado lost a wheel in the runoff area. In the afternoon, Sergio Perez, Maldonado again, and Kimi Raikkonen all crashed. Though no one was seriously hurt, Bianchi’s accident stemmed from a left elbow caught between the seat and the chassis that kept him from correcting a rear wiggle and spun him off at Degner. His Marussia would sit out the rest of Friday running after just eight laps for repairs.
Hamilton (1:34.157) led Rosberg in a teammate by teammate running order for the top eight in the morning ninety minute practice, with Vettel, Webber, and Massa the fastest five. Alonso in sixth was barely under a second slower than Hamilton. In the afternoon, Vettel (1:33.852) again took charge. Teammate Webber, Rosberg, Raikkonen, and Grosjean completed the top five in that session, with a moment at Degner ruining Hamilton’s fast lap before long run testing. He was sixth fastest, with Ricciardo, Massa, Button, and Alonso the top ten for the second ninety minute practice.
Webber (1:32.053) kept Red Bull on top on Saturday morning, while Vettel languished in the garage. KERS issues continued to plague Red Bull, though Webber had suffered the brunt of them throughout the season. Vettel had no time to set a lap with the softer tyres on Saturday. Hamilton and Rosberg were still quick in their Mercedes, with Grosjean and Alonso rounding out the top five. Suzuka continued to snatch drivers off the track, with Sutil crashing into the tyre barriers after going wide at Spoon.
Gutierrez began the twenty minutes of Q1. No one followed for nearly three minutes, when a number of drivers poked the nose of their cars out of the garages and headed off to begin the first qualifying session. Button (1:32.606) led the early times over Raikkonen. Gutierrez moved very quickly in the garage as his Sauber burst into flames. The crew was quite quick on the extinguishers, but there was no immediate way of knowing how widespread the damage on the car might be.
By halfway, Alonso (1:32.371) led Button, Grosjean, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, di Resta, Maldonado, and Ricciardo as the top ten. Vettel, Webber, and Bianchi had yet to leave the garage. They were joined in the knockout zone at that point by the other drivers yet to set a time. Hamilton’s first lap put him second fastest, less than two tenths off Alonso’s pace. Vettel and Webber joined the fray with around eight minutes to go, as it seemed that Bianchi would not set a time. He had a ten spot grid penalty, so setting a time might well be worthless for Marussia.
Vettel’s first fast time put him third fastest, at about the same time that Hamilton went fastest of all. He would not lead for long, as Webber (1:32.271) eclipsed the Briton’s time. Gutierrez rejoined with five minutes to go, as Webber led Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Perez, and Raikkonen in the top ten. Bianchi also joined around that time, in the knockout zone along with Gutierrez, Sutil, Pic, van der Garde, and Chilton.
Red Flag (2:55 remaining):
With three minutes to go, Vergne also caught fire. He came to a stop on track with smoke and the extinguisher plume floating across the track. It appeared that his rear brakes had overheated and caught fire, leaving him sixteenth at best. Drivers streamed back into the garages, even as some drivers had just left the pits with fresh mediums.
Rosberg led the queue to rejoin the session, with Gutierrez, Raikkonen, the Force Indias and others directly behind. Gutierrez, Sutil, Pic, van der Garde, Chilton, and Bianchi were then in the knockout zone. Grosjean had on the hard tyres. Webber, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, and Button, the top five, sat fairly safely in the garage.
Rosberg went fastest, with di Resta slotting into third, Raikkonen moved up to sixth, dropping Vettel to seventh. Grosjean went fastest, just beating Massa, but nearer the bottom the order was fairly traditional. Vergne and Sutil joined the usual men in the first session knockout. In the end, Grosjean (1:31.824) led Massa, Rosberg, Webber, di Resta, Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, Vettel, and Hulkenberg as the top ten.
Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Adrian Sutil
18. Jean-Eric Vergne
19. Max Chilton
20. Charles Pic
21. Giedo van der Garde
22. Jules Bianchi
di Resta was the first driver out for the fifteen minutes of Q2, with Gutierrez, Hulkenberg, and Raikkonen soon following. Grosjean soon joined his teammate; both Lotus drivers using the hard compound tyres. Five minutes in, Raikkonen (1:32.020) led Grosjean, Hulkenberg, di Resta, and Gutierrez as the top five. They were the only drivers then to set a time. Maldonado went third fastest on his first lap, only to drop as Hamilton beat Raikkonen’s time by two tenths. Alonso was not sitting still, beating his former teammate by two hundredths.
Alonso (1:31.828), Hamilton, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Massa, Rosberg, Maldonado, Perez, Hulkenberg, and di Resta were the top ten just after halfway through the session. Button popped up to third fastest with just over six minutes to go. Vettel and Webber had joined the session, while Ricciardo remained in the garage undergoing brake checks. Those three, di Resta, Bottas, and Gutierrez were in the knockout zone with five minutes to go. As Webber joined, he seemed to slow up Perez, then sitting ninth fastest.
Vettel’s first lap put him fastest, just over a half second faster than Alonso. Webber joined him on the provisional front row, just over two tenths slower than his teammate. Those moves left Maldonado, Perez, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Gutierrez, and Ricciardo in the knockout zone with just under three minutes to go. Ferrari left it very late, rejoining Alonso at precisely the two minute mark, and Massa barely before. Vettel pitted in the final two minutes, apparently feeling safe with a 1:31.290. Webber did the same. Di Resta also gave up on a fast lap, sitting seventh.
In the final minute and after the flag, Hulknberg looked set to move up. Grosjean also pitted from third fastest, aborting a final lap. Hlukenberg managed to go fifth behind Alonso, only to have Rosberg go fourth. Raikkonen beat that German to fourth, as Hamilton dropped to ninth. He then moved up to fourth, with Massa moving up as well on an incredibly fast final sector. Button moved up, only to knock out his teammate. In the end, Vettel (1:31.290), Webber, Grosjean, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Rosberg, Alonso, Button, and Hulkenberg all moved on to fight for pole in Q3.
Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Sergio Perez
12. Paul di Resta
13. Valtteri Bottas
15. Pastor Maldonado
16. Daniel Ricciardo
Vettel started off the ten minutes of Q3 a few seconds into the session, with Alonso and Webber following. Hamilton soon joined them, as did Grosjean and Button. The wind had picked up, moving across the track and changing its direction at will. On his first timed lap, Vettel lost KERS and had a terrible exit out of Spoon, though he was less than a tenth slower than his fastest Q2 time. Alonso was a half second slower. Webber (1:30.975), though, bested both of them, beating his teammate by nearly four tenths nearly halfway through the session.
Grosjean aborted his lap, while Hamilton slotted into fourth fastest, a second slower than Webber. Raikkonen got the second part of Q3 started with three minutes to go. Webber and Vettel followed. Soon only Hamilton and Button remained in the garage, though they, too, would rejoin the track with two minutes to go.
Though Raikkonen’s first sector was quite quick, Vetttel beat it by three tenths. Both Weber and Rosberg were a tenth slower than Vettel. Raikkonen went third on his only lap, with Vettel unable to best Webber’s earlier lap. Webber slightly improved, as a number of drivers went faster than Raikkonen. Massa looked set to head up the rest of the field, only to have Grosjean, then Hamilton take third. In the end, Webber had pole by a bit more than a tenth over his teammate.
Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix:
Driver Team Time Laps 1. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:30.915 13 2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:31.089 13 3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:31.253 17 4. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:31.365 21 5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:31.378 17 6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:31.397 17 7. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:31.644 19 8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:31.665 16 9. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:31.684 19 10. Jenson Button McLaren 1:31.827 15 11. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:31.989 16 12. Paul di Resta Force India 1:31.992 15 13. Valtteri Bottas Wiliams 1:32.013 14 14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:32.063 15 15. Pastor Maldonado Wiliams 1:32. 093 15 16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:32.485 11 17. Adrian Sutil** Force India 1:33.357 10 18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:34.357 6 19. Max Chilton Marussia 1:34.320 8 20. Charles Pic* Caterham 1:34.556 8 21. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:34.879 9 22. Jules Bianchi* Marussia 1:34.958 5
*suffered a ten place grid penalty for 3rd reprimand of the season
**suffered a five place grid penalty for gearbox change