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Qualifying analysis - Webber set for Suzuka swansong? 12 Oct 2013

Pole sitter Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 (L to R): Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing, pole sitter Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrate in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Lotus E21 nose and front wing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F138.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-28.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India VJM06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW35.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Charles Pic (FRA) Caterham CT03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Max Chilton (GBR) Marussia F1 Team MR02.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice, Suzuka, Japan, Friday, 11 October 2013

Changeable wind conditions at Suzuka complicated things during all three qualifying sessions, as did Jean-Eric Vergne’s on-track fire on his Toro Rosso in Q1. As that session resumed for a couple of minutes many who had saved their medium tyres threw them on, while others stayed with the hards and lost out. It made for less than straightforward proceedings, especially as most expect the level of degradation of Pirelli’s medium rubber to be high in the race. We take a team-by-team look at the Saturday formbook in Japan…

Red Bull
Mark Webber, 1m 30.915s, P1
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 31.089s, P2

Webber was really hooked up all day and said that “the weapon was sharp”. He was thus able to take his first pole position of the season after setting the two best laps in Q3. Vettel, however, had a KERS problem in the morning and there were still issues from that during his qualifying runs. He downplayed them, however, and congratulated his team mate. The change in wind direction blew the cars down the pit straight and then the headwind going through the esses loaded the cars with huge downforce, and both drivers said the performance of the RB9 was huge as a result. They were comfortably the fastest and go into the race with the best chance. Webber is not known for his great starts, but if he gets one on Sunday then Suzuka must be his best shot at one last F1 victory.

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 31.253s, P3
Nico Rosberg, 1m 31.397s, P6

Hamilton said he was very happy with his third place on the grid, especially as he starts from the clean side, and described his car as awesome in Q3 when he was able to jump from P10 to P3. Rosberg didn’t quite get enough out of his car on his final lap in Q3, though he thought it wasn’t a bad one by any means, and was later reprimanded for driving too slowly when Pic was approaching him between Turns 14 and 15.

Lotus
Romain Grosjean, 1m 31.365s, P4
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 31.684s, P9

Grosjean remained in very strong form in the Lotus and for moments was third behind the Red Bulls until Hamilton’s very late improvement shoved him across the grid. Raikkonen was still struggling with the way the E21 is on the revised construction Pirellis, but proved in Korea that his starting position, like Alonso’s, isn’t always reflective of where he’ll finish the race.

Ferrari
Felipe Massa, 1m 31.378s, P5
Fernando Alonso, 1m 31.665s, P8

Massa said he was really happy with the perfect lap of a great track, and that fifth place was the best that the car could have done. Alonso wasn’t overjoyed at only eighth on the grid, three places behind his team mate, but is pinning his hopes on strong race pace and being able to make up places rapidly at the start. That’s become his speciality this season, and will help not just his slim chances of the title, but also Ferrari’s of staying ahead of Mercedes in the constructors’ stakes.

Sauber
Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 31.644s, P7
Esteban Gutierrez, 1m 32.063s, P14

Once again Hulkenberg was a star as he put the Sauber into the top 10 for Q3, and then qualified seventh. Later there was a mix up over a team radio call relating to Chilton’s approach, and while nobody concerned considered that they had impeded or been impeded, the stewards fined Sauber 20,000 euros for issuing an incorrect message to their driver. Gutierrez, meanwhile, was impressively close to Hulkenberg but lost some time in Q1 when unburned fuel momentarily set the back of his car alight when it was wheeled back into the garage. The damage was light and he was able to continue.

McLaren
Jenson Button, 1m 31.827s, P10
Sergio Perez, 1m 31.989s, P11

Button said he’s really looking forward to the race and that he got his MP4-28 working well on both the hard and the medium Pirellis. He’s expecting to be strong if the race is all about tyre degradation and conservation. Perez got messed up in the aftermath of Vergne’s interruption of Q1 and never really got his rhythm back for Q2, when he missed out on a Q3 place by a tenth of a second.

Toro Rosso
Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 32.485s, P16
Jean-Eric Vergne, 1m 33.357s, P18, will start P17

Toro Rosso’s luck began to run out when Vergne’s car rolled to a smoky halt nearing Degner towards the end of Q1, due to the rear brakes sticking on and catching fire. That spoiled everybody’s plans, but in Q2 Ricciardo found the change in wind direction had really screwed him up and was left 16th after what he described as a hugely disappointing session.

Force India
Paul di Resta, 1m 31.992s, P12
Adrian Sutil, 1m 32.890s, P17, will start P22

Force India looked in much better shape in FP3 and qualifying, after overnight changes made the VJM06 much more driveable. Unfortunately, however, Sutil spun on the exit to the first part of Spoon Curve in FP3 and damaged the gearbox, and will drop five grid places because it needed changing.

Williams
Valtteri Bottas, 1m 32.013s, P13
Pastor Maldonado, 1m 32.093s, P15

Bottas and Maldonado made some progress and both got through to Q2, feeling they’d extracted 100 percent of what the FW35s had to offer.

Caterham
Charles Pic, 1m 34.556s, P20, will start P20
Giedo van der Garde, 1m 34.879s, P21, will start P19

Caterham lost out when Q1 resumed after Vergne’s fire, as Chilton put his Marussia ahead of them. Pic said that he couldn’t space out his out-lap sufficiently to get a really good timed run, while Van der Garde didn’t get that final lap together.

Marussia
Max Chilton, 1m 34.320s, P19, will start P18
Jules Bianchi, 1m 34.958s, P22, will start P21

Both drivers put in spectacular performances. Chilton jumped both of the Caterhams when he banged in his quick lap when the interrupted Q1 session resumed, while Bianchi wheeled his rebuilt car round very little slower than the green cars, setting Marussia up for a tight battle with their principal rivals.

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