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Qualifying analysis - a tale of two strategies in India 26 Oct 2013

(L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1, pole sitter Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing and Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrate in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Qualifying, Saturday, 26 October 2013 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB9.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Saturday, 26 October 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Saturday, 26 October 2013 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F138.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Saturday, 26 October 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Friday, 25 October 2013 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Practice, Friday, 25 October 2013 Sergio Perez (MEX) McLaren MP4-28.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Saturday, 26 October 2013 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Saturday, 26 October 2013 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Saturday, 26 October 2013 Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams FW35.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Friday, 25 October 2013 Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia F1 Team MR02.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Friday, 25 October 2013 Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham CT03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Saturday, 26 October 2013

On the face of it, Sebastian Vettel scored another dominant pole position in India on Saturday, but the world champion looks set to have a major fight on his hands as he bids for a third consecutive win in New Delhi. For whilst the German, along with the majority of the top ten, will start Sunday’s race on Pirelli’s soft tyre, Vettel’s Red Bull team mate, Mark Webber, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will begin the Grand Prix on the much more durable medium compound rubber. With the softs expected to do no more than five laps on full tanks, Webber, Alonso and the McLaren’s of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez may just have called it right…

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 24.119s, P1
Mark Webber, 1m 25.047s, P4

Red Bull split their strategy, putting Vettel on the soft Pirellis to run for the pole – his 43rd overall and seventh of the season – and hedged their bets by running Webber on the mediums in Q3. Given the circumstances his lap of 1m 25.047s was most impressive, and he could well be the race’s dark horse. Vettel can clinch his fourth consecutive world championship here if he finishes fifth or higher. If he does that, it doesn’t matter where Alonso finishes.

Mercedes
Nico Rosberg, 1m 24.871s, P2
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 24.941s, P3

Both drivers said that they drove the wheels off their cars. Rosberg said he was on a knife edge; Hamilton said that he was getting used to something on the car – undisclosed, of course – which Rosberg had already experienced, and also thought that encountering the slowing Vettel in Turns 8 and 9 might slightly have impacted on his lap time. But both were delighted to be ahead of Webber. Whether the strategy of running both cars on the soft tyres will work out remains to be seen.

Ferrari
Felipe Massa, 1m 25.201s, P5
Fernando Alonso, 1m 25.826s, P8

Like Red Bull, Ferrari split their strategy after Massa had insisted on running the soft tyres in qualifying. He was a respectable fifth, while Alonso was eighth on the mediums and will be at his most dangerous come the race. The Spaniard has nothing to lose - he goes into it knowing that Vettel can win the title, even if he finishes ahead of the German.

Lotus
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 25.248s, P6
Romain Grosjean, 1m 26.577s, P17

Raikkonen progressed easily through the three sessions to take sixth on the grid after a single run on the soft Pirellis, but Grosjean’s policy of running throughout Q1 on the mediums proved disastrous as he tumbled down the order to 17th having failed to improve his time in a scrappy final run. He’ll have a mountain to climb in the race.

Sauber
Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 25.334s, P7
Esteban Gutierrez, 1m 26.336s, P16

Hulkenberg expects a good fight with McLaren in a race in which he is determined to score more points to keep closing the gap to Force India. Gutierrez was reasonably happy with his Q1 performance but jarred his neck and hurt himself after running hard over a kerb in Q2, leaving him 16th.

McLaren
Sergio Perez, 1m 26.153s, P9
Jenson Button, 1m 26.487s, P10

McLaren made another little bit of progress in India, with Button setting fastest time in Q1 on the soft Pirellis. He was torn when McLaren opted to run both cars on the mediums in Q3, but admitted that it is probably the best strategic choice for the race.

Toro Rosso
Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 25.519s, P11
Jean-Eric Vergne, 1m 25.798s, P14

An off in FP2 that damaged the car meant that Ricciardo had to play catch-up in FP3, so he was elated when he was told over the radio during Q2 that his best lap was good enough for P9. Then two corners later he was told he had dropped to P11… Vergne said he was reasonably happy with his afternoon, but felt he might have lost a little bit of time flying over a kerb.

Force India
Paul di Resta, 1m 25.711s, P12
Adrian Sutil, 1m 25.740s, P13

Di Resta said that but for a small mistake towards the end of his best run in Q2 he had got close to the perfect lap, and that the way in which the VJM06 was working gave him greater confidence than he’s had for a while in the car. Sutil was less happy though very little slower, and was hampered by understeer.

Williams
Valtteri Bottas, 1m 26.134s, P15
Pastor Maldonado, 1m 26.842s, P18

Williams entered qualifying hoping to avoid any more drama, having been fined 60,000 Euros for a front wheel fastener coming off Maldonado’s car during FP2. Bottas did very well to get through to Q2 after managing his tyre temperatures well in Q1, but then fell foul of traffic which stymied his attempt to do better than 15th. Maldonado’s chances in Q1 were compromised when traffic affected his intricate warm-up procedures, leaving him 18th.

Marussia
Jules Bianchi, 1m 26.970s, P19
Max Chilton, 1m 28.138s, P22

Bianchi was very happy with the set-up of his car when it mattered in Q1 and managed a really good time, only marginally slower than Maldonado’s. That kept Marussia ahead of the Caterhams, but Chilton said he was still unhappy with his MR02’s balance and qualified slowest of all.

Caterham
Giedo van der Garde, 1m 27.105s, P20
Charles Pic, 1m 27.487s, P21

Van der Garde planned two runs in Q1 but said that he got good enough performance on his first. Pic was much happier with his car’s front-end grip in FP3 and Q1, but said he encountered traffic in the latter during his quick run.

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