Red Bull’s world champion Sebastian Vettel put himself on pole position for a second successive Formula One title at the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday.
The 24-year-old, who needs just one point today to become the sport’s youngest double champion with four races to spare, pipped McLaren’s Jenson Button by just nine-thousandths of a second in a knife-edge qualifying session.
The pole at Suzuka was Vettel’s 12th from 15 races this season, and fifth in succession, and Red Bull’s 16th in a row dating back to the end of last year.
“We got a new front wing out just in time, it wasn’t easy, but fortunately we did,” said the German, who had a wake-up call when he crashed in Friday’s opening practice and damaged the nose of his car more than the team let on.
“We sat down after the practice session this morning and fortunately got everything together and we were able to get every single bit out of the car in qualifying which was crucial,” Vettel said.
Button, fastest in all three practice sessions, is the only driver who can deny Vettel the title at Suzuka, but he must win and hope the German fails to score to keep the championship alive for another weekend.
Vettel has won from pole for the past two years at Suzuka and has finished his last 16 races in the points, with fourth his worst result of the season so far.
McLaren’s 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton qualified third and Brazilian Felipe Massa, with whom he controversially clashed in Singapore last month, will line up alongside for Ferrari in what promises to be a lively start.
Hamilton had been quickest after each had set a lap in the final phase of qualifying, but then failed to cross the line in time to get a second run after Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher squeezed him out.
“With Lewis it was tight, we told him not to back up and let so many cars by,” team boss Martin Whitmarsh said. “Unfortunately he got hustled by at the last corner and in so doing missed out on posting a time in the last lap.”
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