McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton has broken Red Bull Racing’s monopoly on pole positions this season, thanks to a lap of 1m35.820s on Pirelli’s P Zero Red supersoft tires in Korea. Hamilton’s pole, at McLaren’s 700th grand prix, was his first since the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix, beating newly-crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel by two-tenths of a second. This was also the first time that a Red Bull Racing car has missed out on pole since the Brazilian Grand Prix last year (where pole was claimed by Nico Hulkenberg for Williams).

Conditions were warm and dry for qualifying at the Yeongam circuit this afternoon. The ambient temperature of 72° Fahrenheit and track temperature of 82° F was a sharp contrast to the heavy rain of yesterday.
Unusually, both Red Bull Racing cars elected to use the P Zero Red supersoft tires during Q1, whereas all the other frontrunners used the P Zero Yellow soft tires to start the first session. For Q2 and Q3, just the supersoft was used.
With no dry running during free practice yesterday, the teams had plenty of work during the final free practice session this morning, assessing the performance of both slick compounds with heavy and light fuel loads in preparation for qualifying and the race. The track evolved rapidly as more rubber was laid down, with some damp patches from yesterday’s rain making the surface slippery in the morning. At the end of the hour-long session, McLaren’s Jenson Button emerged quickest with a time of 1m36.910s on the P Zero Red supersoft, eclipsing the equivalent time last year, and underlining the British team’s pace at this circuit.

With most teams likely to make three stops tomorrow (race day), some drivers concentrated on preserving their tire allocation for the race in Q3. Nico Rosberg just did one run for Mercedes, while Force India’s Adrian Sutil did not set a time and his team mate Paul di Resta completed only an out lap.

The wear rate of both the soft and supersoft compounds corresponded with expectations, while the way that different teams used the tires during qualifying indicated that there are some interesting race strategies in place.

Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “The teams were presented with a very short amount of time to evaluate the soft and supersoft tires before qualifying, but from what we have seen so far we would expect most of the drivers to make three stops tomorrow. This is in line with the average number of pit stops we anticipate over the year as a whole, but we also wanted to test the boundaries of our compounds in the final part of the season as we make some decisions for 2012. The supersoft tire looks set to work effectively for about 10 laps tomorrow while the soft tire is good for up to 20 laps. We’d expect the time difference over a lap between the two compounds here to be in the region of 0.7s to 1.0s, based on what we have seen today.”