Qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix proved to be a dramatic affair with the session halted three times due to accidents. Sebastian Vettel came through it all unscathed to take pole position for Sunday’s 53-lap race in his Red Bull Renault.
Vettel, who still has a mathematical
chance of becoming champion, kept his cool as the battle for the pole came down to a one lap shoot-out following the third and final red flag. "You have only one lap and the tyres don’t last much longer," Vettel explained. "You have a second one but you can feel already the tyres starting to go off.
“Three races to go and quite a big gap," he continued with reference to his 25 point deficit to Jenson Button
. "So every race has to be a chance if we still want to keep our chances alive. All we can do is race. We came here to race and we want to win, so I think we are in the best position for tomorrow’s race. so overall I have to say very, very happy.
The German racer claimed the pole with a best lap of 1:32.160s, less than a tenth clear of Jarno Trulli
who claimed a front-row start at Toyota’s home grand prix.
"We were here confident after a strong performance from Timo in Singapore that we could achieve a good result," Trulli said. "So we are on the path. Qualifying did not look too bad even though it was really hard to keep up with these guys and I really had to pull everything out of myself and the car to be in the top three. It wasn’t easy but I love this track and have always been very strong and competitive. I am happy."
Lewis Hamilton starts third in the leading KERS-equipped McLaren Mercedes with former F3 team-mate Adrian Sutil showing well again in the Force India Mercedes to line up on the second row of the grid.
"We did not expect to be as competitive as we were today," admitted Hamilton. "Yesterday was not a good day as it was wet but this morning the car was terrible to drive. We had to make some serious changes but we only had one practice session, so we went into qualifying with all these changes hoping that they were the right step forward and they were…"Rubens Barrichello
and Jenson Button
start fifth and seventh respectively after what the Brawn team admit was not a good qualifying session. Button can clinch the championship on Sunday, but Barrichello will be looking to ensure the title battle continues on to Interlagos. Nick Heidfeld
showed well again for BMW Sauber as he qualified sixth ahead of Button, while Kimi Raikkonen
used the harder prime tyre - rather than the softer option - to qualify his Ferrari eighth.
Heikki Kovalainen suffered a high speed spin on his first qualifying run exiting the first Degner turn but went on to make the final round of qualifying. The same corner caught the Finn out on his first timed lap of Q3 as he slid the MP4-24 sideways into the barriers bringing out the red flags. The under-pressure McLaren driver lines up ninth after a scrappy qualifying performance.
Sebastien Buemi had a most dramatic session as he lost control of his Toro Rosso Ferrari on his first flying lap of the day, spinning through the gravel trap at the second Degner, before backing the STR4 into the tyre wall.
Either by good fortune or by clever electronics, he kept the engine running and was able to drive back out of the gravel trap and return to the pits to have a new rear wing fitted. It would not be the final such trip.
The second round of qualifying saw Buemi record the seventh fastest time. However, as the chequered flag flew, the Swiss rookie ran wide exiting the Spoon Curve and made contact with the Armco with the right-hand side of the car. With wing and suspension damage, he somehow made it back to the pits but was unable to take part in the final round of qualifying and therefore starts tenth.
Nico Rosberg qualified 11th in the leading Williams Toyota ahead of Fernando Alonso
and Robert Kubica. Timo Glock and Jaime Alguersuari were classified as 14th and 15th fastest respectively, but both had their own problems.
Glock was back in the Toyota today after being advised to sit out the Friday running. The second round of qualifying brought further drama as he crashed the TF109 exiting turn 18, the final gentle right-hander onto the main straight.
It was a strange incident in that he seemed to simply understeer off the circuit before hitting the tyre wall. The medical team placed Glock on a stretcher and he was subsequently airlifted to hospital with early reports suggesting that he has a minor injury to his left leg but is otherwise okay.
The Degner curse continued for Toro Rosso in the second round of qualifying with Jaime Alguersuari going off at high speed on entry into the second turn. The SR4 hardly lost any speed crossing the gravel trap and nosed hard into the retaining tyre wall. The session was again halted while the badly damaged STR4 was removed. Alguersuari lines up 15th. Giancarlo Fisichella
continues to underwhelm at Ferrari and starts 16th ahead of the equally unimpressive Kazuki Nakajima in the second Williams. Romain Grosjean was 18th in his Renault ahead of Tonio Liuzzi in the second Force India.
Mark Webber crashed in the morning practice session and despite it being a relatively light shunt, was unable to take part in qualifying as the monocoque was damaged. The team will build up the pare chassis for Webber to race from the pitlane on Sunday.