F1 Suzuka Quali Results & Full Report: Vettel Goes Faster and Faster While Ferrari Struggles with Softer Tires

What Happens When the Rain Stops, the Track Dries (Mainly) and the Race is 5 Hours After Quali Begins

10:11pm EST —Sebastian Vettel won pole for the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix in a dominating way, posting the fastest time halfway through the final session and shaving more time off at the end. It was a qualifying session of will-they, won’t-they? as rain pelted the Suzuka circuit Saturday, delaying qualifying until a sunny and dry Sunday morning. Mark Webber completed the Red Bull speed duo to start second, with Lewis Hamilton will start five grid positions behind his qualifying position of third, due to a gearbox change before qualifying. Robert Kubica showed some Renault development to post the fourth fastest time with Fernando Alonso rounding out the fastest five. They will start third and fourth with Jenson Button starting fifth after his teammate’s penalty. Both Mercedes cars and Williams teammate qualified in Q3, with Nico Rosberg, Rubens Barrichello, Nico Hulkenberg, and Michael Schumacher the top ten qualifiers.  Felipe Massa was unable to progress beyond Q2 and qualified twelfth eleventh. Both Ferraris had issues with the softer tires unable to improve their times dramatically, as is usual, from the harder compound. Button will start on the harder tire with a qualifying strategy gamble.

Speculation over the status of qualifying began during the rain-soaked final practice, one where only Jaime Alguersuari and Timo Glock set times. All drivers left the garage, but only those two went around the entire lap. Vettel and Red Bull led the two dry practices, marked mainly by Hamilton’s absence after a crash that required extensive repairs, bleeding into the second practice sessions. Kubica was quick in both sessions, with the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa “improving” dramatically from the first to second session, as per usual.

Fifteen minutes before Q1 was to have begun on Saturday, the FIA announced that the session start would begin a half hour late, with a track test and further announcement ten minutes before the later start time. After the SC made it’s check, Whiting announced that there would be a further half hour delay, moving the session back by an hour, and another delay indicating that qualifying would then just be postponed to Sunday, as there would then not be enough time to finish qualifying before night fell. It was not to be, as another half hour delay was announced, with yet another decision to come ten minutes before the newly scheduled start. A half hour after qualifying was to have begun, the announcement came that it was delayed until Sunday morning. Sunday dawned with the rain having stopped and the sky turning bright blue, for a Sunday filled with both qualifying and race, a test of endurance for any mechanic unlucky enough to have a driver damage his car early in the day.

Petrov was the first man out onto the dry but still damp in spots circuit for the twenty-minute Q1 session, followed by both Virgin Racing drivers, the Williams, Lotus, Senna, and Button while the rest of the field waited to let them dry off the track. McLaren had returned to their older wing configuration with too little running time on Friday to determine its effectiveness. Very quickly, though, all but a knockout zone’s worth of drivers were circulating. Hulkenberg was the first to post a close to competitive time (1:35.352), though he was eclipsed by Sutil, Massa, and Petrov before returning ot the top position finally down into the 1:32s, though still a second and a half off of Vettel’s fastest time in the second Friday practice. Schumacher and Barrichello were quick early on as well, with Barrichello, Hulkenberg, Heidfeld, Schumacher, Massa, Sutil, Liuzzi, Alguersuari, and Kobayashi the top ten with twelve minutes left int the session. Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Webber, Vettel, and Kubica had yet to set a time, finally joining the fray at almost the halfway point.

Alonso’s first time put him at tenth fastest as fastest Hulkenberg was still a second off Vettel’s Friday time of 1:31.465. The Spaniard picked off a couple of positions as Hamilton began his first fast lap, one that was fourteenth fastest, until Button went eighth fastest on his. Vettel and Kubica had yet to set a time with just under eight minutes left, though Webber was twelfth fastest. Hulkenberg still led, with Barrichello, Rosberg, Massa, then Alonso the fastest five. Vettel went straight to seventh on his first flying lap, then fastest on the next as Webber went fourth fastest. With six minutes to go, Vettel led Hulkenberg, Barrichello, Webber, Rosberg, Massa, Alonso, Hamilton, Heidfeld, and Schumacher with Kovalainen, Trulli, di Grassi, Yamamoto, Senna, Glock, and Kubica, who still had no posted time in the knockout zone. A minute later and everyone was on the track, but di Grassi, Yamamoto, and Glock. Kubica’s first lap took him to thirteenth and dropped Buemi into the knockout zone. Alonso took fifth fastest from Rosberg as Petov demoted his teammate to fourteenth, then Kubica dropped to sixteenth, and myriad other times changes occurred in the final three minutes, though the knockout zone remained the same. Vettel bettered his time to 1:32.035 without really needing to before heading to the garage to wait until Q2 with a minute left, as did Barrichello, whos time was bettered by Rosberg, dropping him to fourth. Many of the top ten runners aborted their final laps of the session, while the new teams and Toro Rosso battled to make it to Q2. In the final times, it was Buemi who joined the new teams on the sidelines for Q2 and Q3 while the fastest ten in the first third of qualifying were Vettel, Hulkenberg (+.176), Rosberg, Barrichello, Webber, Schumacher, Alonso, Button, Massa, and Kobayashi. Hamilton as twelfth fastest, a thousandth slower than Kubica.

Drivers Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Buemi 1:33.568
19. Trulli 1:35.346
20. Kovalainen 1:35.464
21. di Grassi 1:36.265
22. Glock 1:36.332
23. Senna 1:37.270
24. Yamamoto 1:37.365

The Ferraris were the first out in Q2, followed by the surprisingly quick Barrichello and Hulkenberg, with Kubica, Liuzz, Alguersuari, Petrov, then Webber following. Two minutes into the session and only Vettel of the title contenders wasn’t out, along with the Mercedes drivers. Vettel very quickly joined in as Alonso was already starting his first fast lap of the fifteen-minute session. Massa was the first with a time (132.573), but Alonso was literally right behind him, only with a 1:31.819. Hulkenberg and Kubica separated the Ferrari drivers before Webber went fastest of all. Button soon took Alonso’s second fastest time as Hamilton slotted into fourth. Five minutes in and Webber (1:31.455) led Button Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Kubica, and Massa, though the bottom half of the top ten wouldn’t stay that way for long. Sutil, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, Liuzzi, Petrov, and the Mercedes drivers without times were in the knockout zone with nine minutes left in Q2.

The five men with a chance at the championship remained the fastest five for a few minutes as they began returning to the garage for adjustments. Rosberg went seventh fastest with his first fast lap; Schumacher tenth and on the bubble with his. Massa was in the garage with everyone else and knockout zone with just over five minutes left, joined by Kobayashi, Petrov, Sutil, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, and Liuzzi. Ferrari was again the first one back out for a final run in Q2 and both drivers on soft tires according to the team on Twitter. Barrichello was the fastest non-title-contender with just under three minutes to go, only .22s off Hamilton’s fastest time. Massa had a big wiggle through the Esses, which could keep him out of Q3. Webber still led Button, Vettel, Alonso, and Hamilton as the fastest five while Massa, Kobayashi, Petrov, Sutil, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, and Liuzzi were in the knockout zone as one minute remained. Vettel was fastest in his sector one, with Webber fastest in sector two. Vettel was fastest overall with a 1:31.184, and Webber bettered his own time, but remained five hundredths off the pace of his teammate. Hamilton moved up to third fastest from fifth as Heidfeld posted a time better than Schumacher to removed himself from the relegation zone, though Schumacher returned the favor on his final hot lap after the flag. Massa could not improve his time and was knocked out, to qualify twelfth. Vettel led Webber, Hamilton, Button, Alonso, Barrichello, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Kubica, and Schumacher as the fastest ten. Hamilton had to qualify very well in order to scrape out a decent starting position with his five-place gearbox-change penalty. Interestingly, Ferrari tweeted that “Fernando remained 5th but could not improve his lap time on soft tyres, just matched the one on hards.” Both Ferraris were having difficulty making the soft tire go quickly and last.

Drivers Knocked Out In Q2:
11. Heidfeld 1:32.187
12. Massa 1:32.321
13. Petrov 1:32.422
14. Kobayashi 1:32.427
15. Sutil 1:32.659
16. Alguersuari 1:07133.
17. Liuzzi 1:33.154


Hamilton and Alonso were the first out for the final ten minutes of qualifying, joined by Barrichello then Schumacher and Kubica, then Webber and Vettel, with Button and Hulkenberg not onto the circuit until well into the ten minutes. Hamilton and Alonso’s first fast times were slower than both Red Bulls’ during Q2, with Vettel 1.3s faster in the first sector alone. Webber took fastest first, but lost it to Vettel, who managed a 1:30.792, the fastest lap of the weekend by far. Four minutes to play and Vettel and Webber led Hamilton, Alonso, Barrichello, Kubica, Rosberg, and Schumacher, with neither Button nor Hulkenberg having posted a time.

Button went out on a hard tire, just after Hulkenberg. With two and a half minutes to go, everyone but Hamilton, Kubica, Button, and Hulkenberg were in the garage. Button went fourth fastest on those hard tires his first fast lap, five hundredths off Hamilton’s pace. Webber’s fastest time was nearly four tenths off Vettel’s blistering lap while Alonso nearly languished in fifth. Hulkenberg’s first lap put him sixth fastest as Alonso tried out the soft tires for his final run. Vettel wasn’t sitting on his time, posting a fastest of all first sector after Hamilton did so in his third, moving up to second fastest while Kubica moved up to fourth fastest. Webber took back second, and Button aborted his final lap in favor of pitting. Vettel took another seven thousandths off his fast time to put Red Bull back in the pole-winning business. Though Hamilton posted the third fastest time, he will start Sunday from eighth after a gearbox penalty.

Provisional Starting Grid for the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix:
1. Vettel 1:30.785
2. Webber 1:30.853
3. Hamilton 1:31.169*
4. Kubica 1:31.231
5. Alonso 1:31.352
6. Button 1:31.378
7. Rosberg 1:31.494
8. Barrichello 1:31.535
9. Hulkenberg 1:31.559
10. Schumacher 1:31.846

*Hamilton’s 5-place penalty makes the following the top-ten starting grid:
1. Vettel
2. Webber
3. Kubica
4. Alonso
5. Button
6. Rosberg
7. Barrichello
8. Hamilton
9. Hulkenberg
10. Schumacher


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