Red Bull’s Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel grabbed pole position at the Korean Grand Prix yesterday, while closest title rival Fernando Alonso qualified only fifth for Ferrari.
Vettel, who chalked up his third pole position in a row, will have Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes to keep him company on the front row for today’s race, but the German’s car was once again comfortably quicker.
Vettel’s flying lap of 1 minute, 37.202 seconds was 0.218 seconds faster than 2008 world champion Hamilton, who had kept him off the top of the timesheets in both of the Friday practice sessions.
The German is 60 points clear of Alonso in the standings, with five races to go after Yeongam, and is chasing his fourth consecutive win with a fourth successive title fast approaching.
Alonso would have been further down the grid had Australian Mark Webber, Vettel’s teammate, not collected a 10-place penalty for taking a post-race “taxi ride” on the Spaniard’s car in Singapore two weeks ago.
Webber, who was on pole in South Korea last year, qualified third, but will start outside the top 10 and so faces even more of a mountain to climb than Alonso.
“I think it was fairly close. I had a very good lap in Q3 [the final phase], on my first attempt. I knew it would be tricky for me to beat that time, for myself,” Vettel said after celebrating his 42nd career pole.
“As expected Mercedes was very strong. So it’s a tight battle ... we have got the balance right this weekend and I improved the car from yesterday as I was not entirely happy after practice,” he said.
Qualifying conditions were cooler than in practice, although Vettel was also quickest in the final session yesterday morning, and today could see some rain although the threat of a typhoon has receded.
“I don’t mind, it’s not a disaster if it starts to rain, we have rain tires in the garage,” the 26-year-old said. “When I arrived on Wednesday, it was very windy, but it has died down since then and I think the typhoon has changed direction.”
Vettel and Alonso are the only drivers to have won in South Korea since the race made its debut in 2010 and Red Bull’s triple champion is chasing his hat-trick at Yeongam.
Alonso has made storming starts his trademark this season and was confident he would have plenty of overtaking opportunities even if he might have to bide his time.
“Here, for the first corner there is not enough space to really attack and so we pass one by one through turn one. So we will try to attack in turn three and turn four,” he told reporters.
“[It] will be not too difficult to overtake with the two DRS [drag reduction system] points. So the start will not be as crucial as maybe Singapore,” Alonso said.
The Spaniard will have both Mercedes drivers ahead of him, with Nico Rosberg lining up in fourth place and Lotus’ Romain Grosjean in third, right behind Vettel.
“We got the most out of the car. It has been a good qualifying for us and hopefully tomorrow we will be able to fight with them [Red Bull],” Hamilton said. “There’s threats all around, but I’m looking forward. A couple of years ago, I was on pole and Seb got past me at the start, so I’d like to repay him on that one.”
Both the Saubers made it into the top 10, with Nico Hulkenberg to start seventh.
For only the second time this season, neither of the McLarens made it through to the final session, with Mexican Sergio Perez qualifying 11th and 2009 champion Jenson Button alongside in 12th.
Both Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, failed to make it through the first phase.
Marussia’s French driver Jules Bianchi was reprimanded and given a three-place demotion — meaningless since he qualified on the back row anyway — for impeding Force India’s Paul Di Resta, who qualified 15th.