Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel has put himself in the best possible position to seal his second Formula One title this weekend by claiming pole for the Japanese Grand Prix, using Pirelli’s P Zero Yellow soft tyres to set a time of 1m30.466s. The German eclipsed his pole time last year of 1m30.785s and beat McLaren driver Jenson Button by just 0.009s. This made it the closest-ever pole in Suzuka, equal to Michael Schumacher’s 2000 benchmark, who also beat Mika Hakkinen by exactly the same margin.
With a performance difference of just over a second between the P Zero White medium tyres and P Zero Yellow soft tyre, the top drivers concentrated on saving their allocation of the faster tyres for as long as possible. However, the frontrunners went straight onto soft tyres at the beginning of Q2 to guarantee getting through to Q3.
The drivers fighting for pole position aimed to complete the final session with just two runs using the soft tyres, in order to save as many sets of the P Zero Yellow compound for the race. The demanding characteristics of the Suzuka circuit, with its high-speed corners that heat up the tyres, meant that the soft tyres delivered their peak performance on the first flying lap after the out lap, putting pressure on all the drivers to perform instantly.
Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi, who went quickest in Q1, used the soft tyre to get through to Q3 but then went back to the medium tyre for the final session, where he did not start a flying lap. Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher, together with the Lotus Renault duo of Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov, did not record a time either. Consequently all four drivers will have the possibility to start either on the soft or the hard tyres tomorrow.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg was a surprise elimination in the first session, after a mechanical problem prevented him from leaving the pits. However, with only the top 10 drivers who set a time having to use the tyres on which they qualified, Rosberg has the possibility to opt for a radical tyre strategy tomorrow with little to lose after being forced to start from the back.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “It was a very fast qualifying and the tyres stood up well to the high-speed demands of Suzuka circuit, with no wear or degradation beyond the usual parameters. However, it now seems to become a trend that some cars qualifying in Q3 do not set a time in order to save tyres, so we will be working with the teams and the FIA to find a solution that is acceptable to everybody to avoid this kind of scenario in the future, as it is not fair on the spectators. Today showed that this remains a problem, which we would like to solve. Looking ahead to the race, with quite a significant lap time difference between the soft and the hard tyres, the possibilities for interesting strategies are wide open this weekend. The trade-off for this extra performance of the soft tyre is the fact that the crossover point, where the medium tyre becomes quicker, might come after only five or six laps. So it’s going to be interesting to see what the teams all opt for.”
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