Sebastian Vettel claimed his twelfth pole position of 2011 at Suzuka on Saturday, just narrowing out McLaren’s Jenson Button.
Favour swung from McLaren to Red Bull following the morning’s third free practice session, although the British team incredibly aided Vettel in his quest for the top spot.
Red Bull also helped Vettel on the approach to qualifying. Having damaged his new front wing at the end of first practice on Friday morning, the squad flew a brand new version to the Japanese circuit, with the part fitted only twenty minutes prior to Q1.
While Button’s second run was a mere 0.009 seconds shy of Vettel’s marker (1:30.466), Lewis Hamilton never even started his final fast lap.
The 2008 Champion was on a slow outlap, when overtaken on either side by Mark Webber (Red Bull) and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, leaving Hamilton to potter through the last turn.
Unfortunately for Hamilton, the clocked ticked to zero before he crossed the line – an error that would leave him on the second row, facing Vettel’s rear end.
Behind the top three, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa (4th) out-qualified teammate Fernando Alonso (5th) for only the third time this season, while Webber – off-kilter from his Hamilton overtake – could not improve on his final run leaving him 6th, seven-tenths shy of his polesitting teammate.
Disappointingly, none of the final four in Q3 completed a fast lap; however Kamui Kobayashi obtained 7th by virtue of setting two sectors on a second lap.
Schumacher and both Renault’s completed outlaps before returning to the pits. It was something of a lucky gift from Senna – after crashing early in the morning, the Renault squad just got his R31 in Q1 with only five minutes to spare.
The sixth row was filled by the Force India pair, led by Adrian Sutil. The German was on his way to Q3, before being bumped by Senna in the final moments, while Paul di Resta’s single fast lap was enough for only 12th.
It was an all-Williams affair on row seven, with Rubens Barrichello nudging ahead of Pastor Maldonado; however the Venezuelan proved only just fast enough to beat Sebastien Buemi in the Toro Rosso.
Buemi’s best of 1:33.227 came only three-thousandths shy of Maldonado, although the Swiss pilot had little fear of falling behind teammate, Jaime Alguersuari.
The Spaniard was two-tenths short of Buemi, but that was a bad as it would get – Sauber’s Sergio Perez never set a lap, rendering him 17th.
Perez will have the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen alongside him the eighth row. The Finn edged fellow-Lotus driver Jarno Trulli to 18th; however both were a clear one-second quicker than the Virgin Racing duo of Jerome d’Ambrosio (20th) and Timo Glock (21st).
Daniel Ricciardo put in the 22nd best time with only Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Vitantonio Liuzzi (HRTF1). Both completed outlaps, but returned the pits instantly with Rosberg stopping due to hydraulic problems and Liuzzi reporting an engine misfire.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m30.466s 2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m30.475s + 0.009 3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m30.617s + 0.151 4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m30.804s + 0.338 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m30.886s + 0.420 6. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m31.156s + 0.690 7. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari no time 8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes no time 9. Vitaly Petrov Renault no time 10. Bruno Senna Renault no time Q2 cut-off time: 1m32.380s Gap ** 11. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m32.463s + 1.997 12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m32.746s + 2.280 13. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m33.079s + 2.613 14. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m33.224s + 2.758 15. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.227s + 2.761 16. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.427s + 2.961 17. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari no time Q1 cut-off time: 1m35.111s Gap * 18. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m35.454s + 4.988 19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m35.514s + 5.048 20. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m36.439s + 5.973 21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m36.507s + 6.041 22. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m37.846s + 7.380 23. Nico Rosberg Mercedes no time 24. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth no time 107% time: 1m39.109s * Gap to quickest in Q1 ** Gap to quickest in Q2