Sebastian Vettel looked odds-on favorite to win his fourth straight Formula One title as he snared pole position for the Indian Grand Prix with apparent ease yesterday.
Vettel, needing only to finish fifth today to seal another championship, burned an uncatchable record lap of 1 minute, 24.119 seconds on his first run of the final qualifying shoot-out.
The 26-year-old Red Bull ace then garaged before returning to the track late in the session, but it proved unnecessary, with none of the field able to come close.
Nico Rosberg went second in the final minutes, a yawning 0.75sec adrift, with his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton third and Mark Webber fourth in the other Red Bull.
Fernando Alonso, who has a mathematical chance of denying Vettel the world title, is to start from the fourth row after timing only eighth quickest for Ferrari.
“Yes guys, yes,” Vettel shouted on the team radio. “We did what we had to. Great job, the car was fantastic.”
Vettel’s seventh pole position this season comes as he seeks to extend his career-high winning streak of five races in what has turned into another season of dominance.
If, as expected, he lifts the world title again this year, he will be the youngest man to win four in a row and only the third ever behind legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
“I’m trying not to think about [the title], obviously it’s difficult when every second person in the paddock is asking you the same question,” Vettel said. “But I think we’ve done pretty well in the past focusing on every single step, and I don’t see a reason to change things for tomorrow and the next couple of races.”
Vettel has never been beaten at the Indian Grand Prix, winning from pole position in both previous visits in 2011 and last year.
He has been peerless so far again at Buddh International Circuit, setting new lap records and topping the time-sheets in all three practice sessions on Friday and yesterday.
Hamilton was delighted with Mercedes’s effort in splitting the Red Bulls and was optimistic about today’s race.
“Congratulations to Sebastian. That is some incredible pace they have, especially with Webber just behind us on the mediums [tires],” he said.
“We have been pushing as hard as we can and we really want to get a good result this weekend. Strategy is going to play a key part. I am a little bit surprised to be where we are, but generally we have got the set-up together and hopefully we can stay ahead of the rest,” Hamilton added.
The biggest shock of qualifying came when Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, who finished third in both his past two races, was eliminated in the first session.
Vettel leads the standings by 90 points from Alonso. He will only let the title slip if he fails to score another point and Alonso wins three of the next four races and is second in the other.
The German also has a chance of equaling Michael Schumacher’s 2004 record of 13 wins in one season if he triumphs in all four remaining races.