Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor James Parker
Sebastian Vettel claimed his 44th career pole position and his 8th of the season at the Buddh International Circuit in qualifying for tomorrows Indian Grand Prix. It edges him closer now to a 4th straight driver’s title in a race tomorrow where he just needs to finish in the top 5 to claim the ultimate prize. The Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton rounded off the top 3, but were a full 7 tenths off the Red Bull’s ultimate soft tyre pace.
There was much speculation regarding the cut off time before the session due to the superior soft tyre pace advantage – with the agreed figure around the 1.26.5 mark.
As was the case at Suzuka, the Sauber of Guttierez was the first man to take to the track, posting a 1.27.5 on the medium compound tyres. This was the choice for all drivers on their first runs and with 7 minutes gone, the Mercedes pair of Rosberg and Hamilton had climbed to the top of the time sheets with the German pipping his team-mate with a 1.26.6 – something he further improved to a 1.26.2 3 minutes later to stay top.
Esteban Guttierez was the first man to test the soft compound tyre in qualifying with less than 10 minutes remaining and immediately went top with a 1.26.0, signalling there was plenty of time to be had, would this be the sign for others to follow suit?
It appeared many drivers felt threatened, with Webber and Alonso opting to go on to the softer compound tyre for their first runs, whilst Grosjean and Vettel opted to stay on the hards.
Alonso immediately went top with a 1.25.9, Webber also managing to match the Spaniard half a tenth down. But the big surprise was Sebastian Vettel, who matched both of them who were on the softer tyres, whilst running the medium compounds – an early ominous sign.
The biggest surprise of Q1 however was the Lotus of Grosjean. A clear miscalculation by the team and driver saw the Frenchman drop out of the session in the bottom 6 due to being far too bold on the medium compound tyres. His fastest lap was scruffy, yet the Lotus man felt it was unnecessary to pit straight away and put on the faster, softer compound tyres.
It was a mistake which cost him dear, and many were perplexed why Lotus failed to pick up the signs when it came to the clear pace advantage to be had on the softer tyre. Joining him was the Williams of Maldonado and both Caterhams and Marussias – Bianchi topping the backmarker battle.
For the start of Q2 many drivers saw it appropriate to attempt 1 run on a scrubbed set of softer compound tyres – with both Alonso and Raikkonen early on getting banker laps in. Whilst Kimi could only manage a 1.26.2, Alonso went 7 tenths clear early on with a 1.25.5.
The Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Hamilton were once again looking rather racy, with the German again pipping his team-mate to take top spot at the head of the time sheets with a 1.25.3. This was short lived however, as with 3 minutes to go the RedBull gang of Webber and Vettel decided to show their hand, properly, for the first time all session.
Webber’s lap was of a very scruffy nature, running wide at the turn 7 and 8 chicane and therefore could only manage a 1.25.0 – still quickest by 3 tenths however. But it was the champion in waiting, Vettel, who managed to execute a clear lap and in the process demoralise everyone with a 1.24.5.
Hulkenberg once again was showing Lotus exactly what he can bring to the table in 2014, finishing in 7th place as the chequered flag dropped for the end of Q2. Only 7 tenths down on Vettel’s fastest lap and right on the pace of both Mercedes cars in front of him – is there anything more he can be doing?
The unlucky 6 who couldn’t make it were Ricciardo, Di Resta, Sutil, Jean Eric Vergne, Bottas and Guttierez. All eyes will be on Ricciardo and Di Resta especially tomorrow however, as with a free choice of tyres, it is expected they could play a factor in disrupting the first stops for those ahead on the softer tyre as the pair look to run long.
Q3 was a very slow starting affair, with most teams pretty much accepting the inevitable was going to happen. There was quite a decision to be made however on strategy and confusion was rife as to what tyre was best to start the Grand Prix tomorrow. This lead to most splitting their drivers on both the medium and the soft compound tyres.
Vettel opted to run the soft tyres, and immediately he set the benchmark, an incredible 1.24.1 which is the fastest ever recorded lap around the Buddh International Ciircuit. Both Webber and Alonso behind were running the medium compound tyres and could not get within a second of the German’s time – only 3 drivers opted to do an early run.
Raikkonen was the next man out on track, with a set of fresh soft compound tyres, he looked to maximise the tyre advantage with those running around him on the slower compounds. However he could only manage a 1.25.2 on his run and slotted in 3rd behind the medium shod Webber.
Rosberg and Hamilton were then next to blink, both opting to run the softer compound tyres and get as close to Vettel as possible. But with a 1.24.7 and a 1.24.9 respectively, both were almost in another postcode to the German. Webber slotted into 4th and the first of the medium runners, he must be feeling confident he can jump the Mercedes by running long tomorrow on his first stint, whilst a soft running Massa managed 5th ahead of Raikkonen.
Hulk once again impressed in 7th, ahead of a longer running Alonso tomorrow who also opted for the medium tyres like Webber. 9th and 10th were the two McLarens.
But all eyes will be on Sebastian Vettel tomorrow, can he claim yet another Grand Chelem or will Webber pressure him at the front thanks to the medium compound advantage? How long will the softer compound tyres last?
It’s going to be a fascinating Grand Prix when it comes to strategy that is for sure.
1 VETTEL – RED BULL
2 ROSBERG – MERCEDES
3 HAMILTON – MERCEDES
4 WEBBER – RED BULL
5 MASSA – FERRARI
6 RAIKKONEN – LOTUS
7 HULKENBERG – SAUBER
8 ALONSO – FERRARI
9 PEREZ – MCLAREN
10 BUTTON – MCLAREN
11 RICCIARDO – TORO ROSSO
12 DI RESTA – FORCE INDIA
13 SUTIL – FORCE INDIA
14 VERGNE – TORO ROSSO
15 BOTTAS – WILLIAMS
16 GUTIERREZ – SAUBER
17 GROSJEAN – LOTUS
18 MALDONADO – WILLIAMS
19 BIANCHI – MARUSSIA
20 VAN DER GARDE – CATERHAM
21 PIC – CATERHAM
22 CHILTON – MARUSSIA